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The Art of Photo: The Winners of the Hamdan International Photography Awards

posted on: Sep 7, 2022

The Art of Photography: The Winners of the Hamdan International Photography Awards
The Hamdan International Photo Awards (HIPA) are Dubai’s way of recognizing achievement in photography and filmic artistry. (Photo: HIPA)

By: Riley Bryant / Arab America Contributing Writer

Every year, the Hamdan International Photography Awards (HIPA) brings together some of the greatest camerawork from around the world to compete in Dubai’s prestigious photo contest. Created in 2015, the competition “demonstrates the commitment of Dubai to encouraging and supporting art, culture, and innovation.” If a photo is worth a thousand words, HIPA is a library of the world’s greatest and most diverse short stories.

This year, HIPA entered its eleventh season under the theme “Nature.” Winners from all corners of the earth took home awards in five categories, with one grand prize winner across all categories. Let’s take a look at the winners of each category and take a dive into the beauty of Mother Nature, as captured in still image.

Note: All photos courtesy of HIPA and used with permission.

NATURE – Ryo Minemizu | Japan

The Art of Photography: The Winners of the Hamdan International Photography Awards

Jumeirah

It’s a cautious creature, and even if they feel a slight threat, the velum will retreat into the conch. The beauty of this species reminded me of Palm Jumeirah, one of the beautiful landscapes of the UAE.

Artist Statement

The title category, “Nature” was a stunning collection of Earth’s greatest wonders. Some had spectacular landscapes, others caught animals in action; Japan’s Ryo Minemizu went micro-sized with his once-in-a-lifetime capture of a 20mm Mollusca Gastropoda larva, native to Okinawa, Japan.

The photo is similar to its runner up- a field of glowing dandelions. What Minemizu does differently, however, is capture motion in a still image. While the creature wasn’t moving, as indicated by how sharp the figure is, it is in a near-perfectly symmetrical pose, as if it was staged. Despite the still picture, the pose gives an air of potential energy, as if it could snap into sudden motion at any moment. Not to mention, the captivation that a “glowing” animal has on a typical viewer adds a layer of intrigue that easily gives Minemizu the win in the Nature category.

PORTRAIT – Ali Saifaldeen | Qatar

The Art of Photography: The Winners of the Hamdan International Photography Awards

Relaxing in the Rain

The way the drops land on her face and the way she holds the small piece of wood in her mouth, caught my eyes.

Artist Statement

The only Arab winner in a non-special category, Ali Saifaldeen gets up close and personal with our closest relative: the mighty gorilla. In a category dominated by human profiles, it was our animal cousin that took home the prize.

On its own, the photo is impressive. The gorilla was beautifully still long enough for Saifaldeen to get the settings and conditions just right. The lens has captured miniscule details in the rain and fur that the naked eye could easily overlook. Her face is full of deep emotion and thought-provoking parallels to human perception.

What is more intriguing is the story the photograph is telling as an entry in the “Portrait” category. Personally, I find the portrait category of any competition to have some of the most intense and intricate stories behind them. Saifaldeen’s fellow competitors told the tales of an Indian farm girl, a Hindu religious leader, and the innocence of an Italian maiden. It is easiest to tell stories of the human experience, which we all relate to; Saifaldeen makes a human audience feel for a gorilla, and draws connections to the human experience from the highest highs to the lowest lows. It is an incredible feat of photography to manipulate emotions in the way that Saifaldeen does, putting him at the top of his category.

GENERAL COLOUR – Nguyen Vu Cao | Vietnam

The Art of Photography: The Winners of the Hamdan International Photography Awards

Matrix of Boats

Fishermen’s boats lined up neatly when anchored to avoid super typhoon No. 9 – the strongest super typhoon to hit Quang Ngai (my hometown) in 30 years that had completely destroyed 325 houses and damaged more than 140,000 houses.

Artist Statement

One word to describe this piece: breathtaking. The entries of the “General – Colour” category not only submitted photos in color, but made the vibrant and shocking colors a centerpiece of their works. Nguyen Vu Cao was no exception with his award-winning “Matrix of Boats.”

Of course, the main showstopper of the photo is the striking contrast of the bright blue fishing boats to the murky brown water they sit in. Sprinkled with specks of orange, yellow, and purple, their is little to differentiate between one boat and another; yet, they appear to be infinite and go on forever. Particularly for those from urban or non-oceanic environments, it is astonishing the sheer number of boats there actually are. Although they all seem like clones of each other, a single boat has its own long history and unique freight load that each represent the livelihood of a real person behind the scenes. They are a staple of the wellbeing of their community, and their tight compactness parallels the unity of the community as both the boats and their human operators brace for what is sure to be a trying and devastating storm. The boats, like their humans, are colorful rays of joy against a dreary and hopeless scene.

GENERAL – BLACK AND WHITE: Muhammad Alamsyah Rauf | Indonesia

The Art of Photo: The Winners of the Hamdan International Photography Awards

Flour War

Despite their poverty and the poor condition of their school, they create happy moments together.

Artist Statement

In this category particularly, each entrant used the black and white color scheme to underscore their photos differently. From grandiosity to imposing ancient landscapes, the lack of color tells its own message when coupled with stunning imagery. Where Nguyen used color to send a message, Muhammad Alamsyah Rauf did the same with the opposite; despite a complete lack of color, the shades of gray together tell a story of togetherness and uniformity.

I would be curious to hear how Rauf lit the photo, and if it was taken candidly or in a studio. The contrast on this photo is heavy, but makes all the difference between the white flour, gray-toned boys, and dark background. Achieving this feat, all while maintaining clear subject focus, can be tricky- making this photo just as impressive as it is aesthetically-pleasing. It is a window into the joys of childhood and youth as captured by a master photographer.

PORTFOLIO: Paul Nicklen | Canada

Cold Pursuit

Dwindling resources force her typically isolated, nomadic species into close proximity, so she must be on the lookout for big, lumbering males or protective mothers with their cubs at every moment… our urgency in dealing with the existential threat of climate change will make all the difference for her future and those like her.

Artist Statement

The “Portfolio” category is where an artist is free to tell a captivating tale through their lens. All art has some sort of message, background, or story, all of which add layers on layers to a work that is already aesthetically-pleasing by nature. Since entrants are submitting more than one photo, however, this category is where artists can really let loose and showcase complex progressions of ideas. Everything from architectural progress, to behind-the-scenes ballet, to the natural beauty of refrozen water was presented to the HIPA judges; yet, it was Paul Nicklen’s series of wildlife stills that emerged victorious.

Nicklen’s work jumps from species to species, but remains focused on those of the Yukon province in northwestern Canada. Together, the images form a larger narrative of survival, unity, and struggle. Nicklen’s message was that of warning- by showcasing the trials of these animals and their difficulties in adapting to a climate change-stricken earth, Nicklen is emotionally appealing to the compassion of those with power to make a difference.

GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Henley Spiers | United Kingdom

The Art of Photo: The Winners of the Hamdan International Photography Awards

Gannet Storm

In flight, hunting mode takes over, and piercing yellow eyes, fringed with blue circles, scour the sea for prey.

Artist Statement

Of the thousands of entries across all five categories, it wasn’t a black and white showstopper, pensive portfolio series, or jaw-dropping portrait that stood out. The winning photo doesn’t have striking color contrasts or seemingly unnatural glowing qualities. In the end, it was Henley Spier’s simple long exposure of a bird over water that earned the $120,000 grand prize.

This photo encompasses everything a photo is- swirling complimentary color tones, selective focus, a rich story hiding behind a frozen moment. These elements are minimally altered, and the photo is in a mostly natural state; the only exception being the long shutter speed (also known as “long exposure”) that allows for the streaked effect of the water and wings. Fascinatingly, the eye and beak is still in clear focus, a feat that Spiers admits was only achievable after “innumerable failures.” Combining long exposure with a fast moving bird is a novel use of the technique that rightly deserves such a praiseworthy recognition.

The Beauty of Photography- HIPA and Beyond

The entire purpose of art is to inspire thoughts and feelings in the viewer. It can be as simple as a cute animal bringing a smile to one’s face, or as complex as any of the above winners. Each and every one is a masterpiece in every sense of the word: a capstone creation with the specialized flair of the passionate, the wild creativity of the artisan, and the flawless execution of the master. Even as a trained photographer, these photos captivate me and overwhelm me with their beauty. I can only hope that they had as strong of an effect on you, the average viewer, as it did myself.

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