PRESS RELEASE: The Leica Oskar Barnack Award 2009 goes to Mikhael Subotzky from South Africa
The first prize in this year’s highly prestigious photographic competition, the ‘Leica Oskar Barnack Award 2009’, goes to the 28-year-old photographer Mikhael Subotzky. His prizewinning portfolio, under the title of ‘Beaufort West’, shows scenes from the South African town of the same name. Second place in this year’s competition was taken by Dominic Nahr. The Swiss-born photographer was awarded the ‘Leica Oskar Barnack Newcomer Award’, awarded for the first time this year, for his photographic essay from the Congo, titled ‘The Road to Nowhere’. The ‘Leica Oskar Barnack Award’ is 5,000 euros or, alternatively, Leica camera equipment to the same value. The winner of the Newcomer Award receives 2,500 euros. The award ceremony will take place at the photographic festival in Arles from 7 to 12 July 2009.
Beaufort West is a town in South Africa with a population of 37,000. As a town, it has little to offer its residents: its chief attractions are the main road and its neighboring municipal jail. This is amply documented in the images captured by Mikhael Subotzky. His core theme is the above-mentioned road, the N1 national road, a main route connecting Johannesburg and Cape Town. This road, or, more aptly, highway runs through Beaufort West for several kilometers and brings the residents over a million visitors in transit every year. For many of the residents, the road is not simply the most important, but also their only connection to the outside world. In addition, the busy through traffic contributes significantly to the income of the predominantly unemployed population of the community. Because, in the evening hours, many residents line the sides of the road to peddle their wares to travelers: food, refreshments, petrol and accommodation. At the same time, prostitution also plays a considerable role.
A photo from Mikhael Subotzky's portfolio "Beaufort West", winner of the 2009 Leica Oskar Barnack Award.
Photo copyright © Mikhael Subotzky, and used by permission of Leica Camera AG.
In his images, Mikhael Subotzky shows various street scenarios and captures the essence of each: people living on a refuse tip, a hospital with terminally ill patients, young prostitutes selling themselves to help eke out an existence for their families. Light-hearted and happy scenes – for instance, showing the visitors to an agricultural show – are few and far between in this portfolio. The photographer lingered a little longer at the local municipal jail. Its inmates are predominantly residents of Beaufort West who, after prolonged unemployment, have turned to crime and attacked and robbed their families and neighbors. Nothing remains for them – except the never-ending roar of the highway heard over the prison walls. The portfolio in second place – ‘The Road to Nowhere’ – documents the dramatic situation of refugees in the east of the Republic of Congo at the end of 2008. From 2004, Laurent Nkunda, the then leader of the Tutsi rebels, fought against the country’s government and sowed fear and terror in the hearts of the local population. Amongst other things, his troops are alleged to have been responsible for numerous rapes, killings and episodes of torture. The situation escalated in October and November of 2008 as Laurent Nkunda took control of the most important roads and cities in the province of North Kivu. More than 250,000 civilians were driven from their homes by the fighting between Nkunda’s troops and the army. A permanent fear of further pillage, rape and murder constantly accompanied them during their flight. At this point in time, no one was safe in North Kivu. In his images, Dominic Nahr accompanies refugees and soldiers on their apparently hopeless search for safety. In addition to the internationally known singer and Leica photographer Seal, the jury for this year’s ‘Leica Oskar Barnack Award 2009’ also included the following members: François Hébel (Arles Meetings Director), Hans-Peter Junker (Editor-in-Chief of VIEW, Gruner+Jahr publishing house), Karin Rehn-Kaufmann (Creative Director of the Leica Gallery in Salzburg) and Dr Andreas Kaufmann (Managing Director of the majority shareholder ACM). All portfolios submitted may be viewed in the online gallery at www.leica-oskar-barnack-preis.de.
A photo from Dmonic Nahr's portfolio "The Road to Nowhere", winner of the 2009 Leica Oskar Barnack Newcomer Award.
Photo copyright © Dominic Nahr, and used by permission of Leica Camera AG.
Note for editorial offices:
The rights to the images are held by the photographer. Use on a royalty-free basis is only permitted in conjunction with journalistic reporting about the Leica Oskar Barnack Award.
(First posted on Thursday, July 9, 2009 at 19:18 EDT)