The allure of the photographic image continues to captivate, intrigue and enthral both the general public as well as the practitioners who continue to explore all possibilities of the medium. Since 1853, the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) has been supporting photographers through the promotion of photography as an art form as well as investigating its scientific methodologies.
Now in its 160th year, the RPS International Photography Exhibition is the longest running presentation of its kind in the world. Each year the exhibition tours to photo festivals and galleries so as to engage with as wide an audience as possible. This year’s winners and shortlist are sure to garner lots of attention.
Glasgow-based photographer Margaret Mitchell has scooped the Gold Award for her series In This Place, which portrays her sister’s children as they grow up in Scotland. ‘Margaret Mitchell’s images are made from the heart,’ said curator Zelda Cheatle, a selector for this year’s exhibition. ‘They speak of this modern world we live in, there is a sincerity and depth of emotion to this work that resonates long beyond the initial view.’
Mitchell has always focused on telling the stories of people, paying particular attention to childhood and place. In her winning series, her approach of photographing each family member against a stark urban backdrop creates a sense of intimacy with the subject, eliciting an awkward albeit uncanny feeling of longing and loss.
Winner of the Under 30s Gold award is London-based documentary photographer Owen Harvey, for his powerful series on the US lowriding culture that features portraits of both customised vehicle and maker. Also included in this year’s Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize, Harvey predominantly casts his lens on the characters and individuals of subcultures like British mods or skinheads. With an already impressive editorial portfolio that includes features in The British Journal of Photography, Dazed and Confused, and i-D Magazine, he’s a name to take note of.
Portraiture is a strong focus of this year’s exhibition, and US photographer R. J. Kern’s exploration of home and ancestry really comes through in his silver-award winning series The Unchosen Ones. Here, Kern captures the competitive nature of animal contests at ten county fairs in Minnesota, and considers what determines a winner and how impactful the repercussions are for losing.
One of the most beautiful and heartfelt submissions comes from bronze winner Wes Bell. For his series Snag, the former fashion photographer had returned to Canada three years ago and began to focus on capturing the natural beauty of his homeland. Snag came about after saying goodbye to his mother, who was dying from terminal cancer. No doubt attuned to the abstract nature of life, Bell started to photograph the tattered residue of plastic bags on barbed-wire fences at fifty different sites in the Alberta prairie.
His evocative images are imbued with an emotional charge we can all relate to. As Bell explains so eloquently, ‘I found myself distracted by remnants of plastic bags. Whipped violently by the wind, they were left shredded and lacerated, but trapped nonetheless in the no man’s land of boundary fences, neither here nor there.’
Chosen from thousands of entries, the four worthy winners form part of the touring show that includes 100 selected images which will go on show at Photoblock this week. Here is a sneak peek of the other stunning imagery you’ll be able to see.