13 Photographers Capture Cultural Diversity at the Sony World Photography Awards 2019

‘Synergy of Humanity’
‘Synergy of Humanity’ | © Eng Chung Tong, Malaysia, Shortlist, Open competition, Culture, 2019 Sony World Photography Awards

Art & Design Editor

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the 13 photographs shortlisted in the Culture category of the 2019 Sony World Photography Awards’ Open competition speak volumes about the diversity of cultures alive in the world today. Here, the nominees share the stories behind the images.

Photography’s ability to illustrate a feeling or capture a pertinent moment in time, free from the restrictions of spoken or written language, is on full display at the prestigious Sony World Photography Awards. Nowhere is the medium’s power more apparent, or celebrated, than in the Open competition, which encourages the participation of all photographers, regardless of age, background or experience.

Entrants can submit up to three of their best single images across 10 categories, including Architecture, Landscape, Portraiture and Street Photography.

The 13 photographers on the 2019 shortlist for the Culture category, for which Culture Trip is a partner, each present evocative, revelatory and poignant images of places local to them or that they’ve longed to visit. Their photography enables them to preserve something as well as to communicate visually on important themes from around the world.

‘The Harvest’

Business studies student Dikpal Thapa from Nepal has been shortlisted for his stunning image of a Gurung honey hunter going to death-defying lengths to harvest a hive of himalayan bees in the remote Nepalese village of Bhujung.

“I first saw pictures of the honey hunters when I was nine or 10 years old. It left a lasting impression,” he says. “I lived with them for a week. I risked everything with them while climbing the cliffs and [taking] this picture, which will remain with me forever.”

It’s important for Dikpal to convey that honey hunting isn’t a dying tradition and that the “extravagant development” of the modern world doesn’t lure everyone.

“There are people who want to stay connected to nature and nurture it, not just destroy it,” he says. “I want people to come and appreciate the hardship and the joy of living in the wild.”

‘The Mona Lisa’

As a child, Remus Daescu dreamed of visiting the Louvre in Paris to see the Mona Lisa. His shortlisted image of Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece not only reveals the reality of attempting to get close to it but highlights the power of technology and authenticity in today’s global society.

‘The Sound of Light’

Photography for Yi Han, shortlisted for The Sound of Light, “is a way to share stories beyond time and space”. This photograph’s story pertains to the more than 15 million visually impaired people in China, approximately 18% of the global population.

“For visually impaired people, ‘watching’ films is a faraway dream,” says Han, whose wife is part of a small volunteer group that provides an audio description service in theatres. “For a visually-impaired audience, audio description is the sound of light, which helps them watch and experience films.

“I took this photo when she [Han’s wife] worked as the narrator for a live audio description screening session. I was deeply touched by the passion and excitement of the audience, which inspired me to record and share their story.”

‘A Red River of Faith’

Photography is a window into the world for software engineering graduate Lifeng Chen, shortlisted for A Red River of Faith, a remarkable shot of Tibetan Buddhist nuns streaming across the landscape to practise the dharma at the Yaqing Temple in Ganzi, Sichuan.

“Sometimes for a good photo, we will constantly explore some beautiful or frustrating, shocking things and scenery,” says Chen. “In other words, photography guides us to constantly explore and discover.”

The importance of cultural heritage comes through in all of the shortlisted images. They are illuminating portals into diverse cultures and age-old traditions that are as visually striking as they are intriguing.

Pan Jianhua wins the Culture category

Pan Jianhua has been announced as the winner of the Culture category for his photograph of shadow puppeteers performing for villagers in an old stone house. The senior electronics engineer – who got his first SLR camera eight years ago – spends his spare time documenting the traditional cultures and rural life of China; his winning image perfectly captures an ancient folk art. Shadow Puppetry also scooped him first place in the National Awards for China Mainland.

‘Shadow Puppetry’

The shortlist for the SWPA 2019’s Open competition

‘End of Nowruz Celebration in Iran (Kurdistan)’
‘Bright Minuet’
‘Winner of Naadam’
‘Have you been to a Chinese Opera’
‘Vasile Oanea’
‘Greek traditional life’
‘Drawing the Happiness’

The 10 winners of the Open competition were announced on 26 February; the overall winners of both the Open and Youth competitions will be revealed on 17 April.

The 2019 Sony World Photography Awards Exhibition will be at Somerset House in London from 18 April to 6 May. Tickets go on sale on 5 March at 1pm GMT.

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