Lens of Humanism: The Andrei Stenin International Photo Contest

by Ranjan Kaul

The Annual Andrei Stenin International Photo Contest recently announced an exhibition featuring the winners of the 2020 contest and also inviting entries for the 2021 contest. Instituted under the patronage of Rossiya Segodnya, the Commission of the Russian Federation for UNESCO, the prestigious photo contest is Russia’s foremost platform for documentary photography and for discovering new photojournalists in Russia and the rest of the world.

Young photojournalists, between 18 and 33 years old, from 75 countries competed in the 2020 contest. The contestants were judged by a stellar jury group that included directors and photo editors from the world’s leading photography and news media outlets as well as international gallerists. Of the around 5000 selected submissions, among the young winners were significantly six young Indian photographers. It is indeed promising to see talented Indian photojournalists making their presence felt on the world stage. This is what prompted me to work on this article, besides of course to share the high-quality works of the winning entries.

The contest is named in honour of the Russian photojournalist Andrei Stenin who died while on an assignment. Stenin had started his photojournalist career in 2003 and won several prizes for his amazing work, most of which he made in conflict zones, including two Silver Camera awards. He went missing while on a business trip in eastern Ukraine (apparently, as reports suggested, he may have been allegedly detained by the Ukranian security service). Later, it became known that he died in August 2014 when the car he was driving was shelled and burnt. He was awarded the Order of Courage for bravery and heroism.

Making a special mention of Indian entries, the Andrei Stenin International Press Photo Contest curator Oksana Oleinik said, “The participation of young photographers from India is a matter of special joy and pride for the Stenin Contest. Since the launch of the contest . . . the number of their victories in the contest has grown remarkably. For instance, at the 2020 contest Indian photographers won six awards! This is the clearest evidence of their talent and skills. Young photojournalists from India dare to combine techniques and genres in their works, think creatively finding a visual embodiment of both ancient cultural traditions and innovations of their country.”

There were altogether four categories for the contest — Top News, Sports, My Planet and Portrait: A Hero of Our Time, which were awarded separately for both Single photos and for a Series. In the “Top News” Single category, independent British investigative journalist and photographer based in the Philippines, Lynzy Billing, won the first place for her photo titled “Buried Justice” and a special prize offered by IRC.

Buried Justice by Lynzy Billing (Great Britain)

Top news, Single Image category, First place/stenincontest

The photo shot in January 2019 shows, in the words of Lynzy, “the body of Ferdinand Santos floating, almost Christ-like, below a bridge in Tondo, Manila, weighted down by a concrete-filled pail with shackles.” Four years ago, President Rodrigo Duterte launched a nationwide anti-drug campaign, killing an estimated 30,000 poor people suspected to be linked to drugs. All the cases remain in legal limbo, with the victims’ families unable to achieve justice for their loved ones. Lynzy Billing adds, “Since 2017, my work has been focused on documenting victims not identified and deaths not investigated amid the president's war on drugs.”

Among the other four winners in the Top News Single category, Chandan Khanna, an Indian photojournalist, was given the Jury Honorable Mention for his work “Devastated Girl”.

Devastated Girl by Chandan Khanna (India)

Top news, Single Image category, Jury Honorable Mention/stenincontest

The heart-wrenching photograph captures the agony of a girl crying out at her father’s funeral along with other mourners organized by the government opposition in Haiti. The Haitian opposition on 9 October 2019 rejected President Moise’s appeal for dialogue after the country’s main cities remained paralyzed over a month of violent anti-corruption protests. Chandan Khanna is a photojournalist working with Agence France-Presse (AFP) based in Port-au-Prince, Haiti covering North-America. After completing his studies at Sri Aurobindo Centre for Arts and Communication in 2013, he has lived and worked in various countries, and now Haiti, covering social and political events.

DusitD2 Terror Attack by Lui Tato (Spain).

Top news, Series category, Grand Prix/stenincontest

People run for cover after their rescue from the DusitD2 Complex in Nairobi.

The terrified expressions and crouched postures are telling.

For the Top News Series category, Spanish photographer Luis Tato won the Grand Prix for the series titled “DusitD2 Terror Attack”. Luis Tato is a Spanish-born photojournalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. On 15 January 2019 a terrorist attack perpetrated at the upscale DusitD2 complex located in the Westlands area of Nairobi, Kenya. Al-Shabaaba terrorist, a Jihadist fundamentalist group based in East Africa, claimed responsibility for the attack where more than 20 people died.

Gilindire Cave – in one breath by Sebem Coskum (Turkey)

Sports, Single Image category, First place/stenincontest

Turkish world record holding free-diver Sahika Ercumen during a training session to break the world record of women’s cave diving at the Gilindire Cave, a glacier cave that is known as the eighth Wonder of the World in Aydincik, Turkey. This breath-taking photograph with light from behind the diver creating a surreal effect won Sebnem Coskum the “Single”, First Place under the “Sports” category and a Special Prize from IRC. The Instanbul-based photographer, who holds a master’s degree from the Marmara Faculty of Fine Arts Photography, currently works for Anadolu Agency, Turkey’s largest news agency.

The First Place in the Sports Series was given to Pavel Volkov, an award-winning Russian photographer who has worked on many projects related to problems in Russian society. In the winning series, the photographer captures the sheer grit of Alexei Talai who lost both his legs and arms in an accident. After surviving the accident Alexei took to sport for rehabilitation and as a psychological means of self-acceptance. He now holds several world and European Paralympic awards.

Talai’s Story by Pavel Volkov (Russia)

Sports, Series category, First place/stenincontest

The photo of Alexei Talai training in the swimming pool captures the calm and yet determined visage and body of the Paralympic sportsman enveloped by the lyrical movement of water.

Talai’s Story by Pavel Volkov (Russia)

Sports, Series category, First place/stenincontest

Another portrait of Alexei Talai conveying his self-belief and meditative acceptance of his condition.

Kolkata-based documentary photographer Ayanava Sil was awarded Third Place in the same Sports Series category for his “Kushti” series. A resident of Kolkata, Ayanava’s works have been published and recognized by different global platforms including National Geographic, CNN America, Chiiz Magazine etc. He has also won the News Times award, Eye Win award and Golden Orchid International Photography award and has been exhibited in film and photography festivals. The use of black and white in the series evocatively captures the simplicity and hardy life of the pehlwans who continue the tradition in Indian wrestling that was developed during the Mughal Empire and has now become a sub-culture in many parts of North India.