The Oskar Barnack Award is one of the biggest photography competitions dedicated to photojournalism in the world. The first edition took place in 1979 on the 100th birthday of Oskar Barnack – the creator of the Leica camera. Since then the competition has been organised annually. The international jury includes photographers, picture editors and curators of Leica galleries from around the world. The awards were presented during the Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie festival held in Arles, France. Over 1700 photographers from 79 countries participated in this year’s edition and among the finalist there was Polish photographer Tomasz Tomaszewski.
The competition offers also a Leica Oskar Barnack Newcomer Award award for prospective photographers who are aged 25 years and under. The same jury judge both competitions.
Jens Olof Lasthein is the winner of the Oskar Barnack Award 2010 for his series ‘Waiting for the future – pictures from Abkhazia’. His pictures tell the story of the people of the Republic of Abkhazia in the Southern Caucasus.
Although the Republic of Abkhazia has gained its independence after a period of civil war, it is still considered to be a part of Georgia under international law.
This politically complex situation is also reflected in the everyday life of the region. The future of the people there is just as uncertain as that of their home country and it is precisely this uncertainty that Lasthein has captured in his photography, as life in Abkhazia has come to a standstill.
The Cold War years have left their marks on Abkhazia; the future was simply frozen in time. And this is the state in which the region still finds itself today. The political situation not only hinders the reconstruction of the region, but also cuts its inhabitants off from the rest of the world. So the people wait, trapped between despair and the joyful expectation of a happier future. The portfolio shows the desolate reality: the beaches of Sukhum, the capital city, formerly crowded with vacationers from throughout the Soviet Union, are now almost deserted. The ruined houses and overgrown gardens of the small coastal town Ochamchira appear to have been abandoned. And Tkuarchal, the once thriving industrial center, is now a place of devastated factories and high unemployment. Life in Abkhazia has come to a standstill. Any aims, dreams or plans simply shatter due to the lack of opportunities. “For me, it is much more important that my pictures capture visual insights into life in all its facets than to simply record the bare facts. To capture life as far as possible in all its complexity and diversity – so that my pictures tell their own, sweeping and varied stories,” says the photographer, explaining his work.
Jens Olof Lasthein was born in Sweden in 1964 and grew up in Denmark. After graduating from the Nordic Photo School in Stockholm, he initially worked as a freelance photographer for various magazines, mainly in the fields of reportage and portrait photography. His best-known projects include ‘Moments in Between,’ a collection depicting the war in the former Yugoslavia, and ‘White Sea, Black Sea,’ a visual documentary of the countries along the border of Eastern and Western Europe. Jens Olof Lasthein’s works have already been shown at around 40 solo exhibitions in galleries, museums and photographic events throughout Europe and Asia.
Andy Spyra, from Hagen, Germany, is the winner of the ‘Leica Oskar Barnack Newcomer Award 2010.’ His photography project ‘Kashmir’ ranks among his most important long-term projects. For him, the region he visited for the first time in 2007 is one of the world’s most wonderful places. All the more reason for him to lament the unfortunate situation of the people who live there.
The border region of Kashmir is one of the world’s most intensely militarized zones and has suffered from the territorial conflicts between India and Pakistan for many years. Squeezed between two nuclear powers and arch-enemies, it is of course the civilian population of Kashmir that suffers most: women are raped and murdered; men disappear without trace or are arrested at one of the numerous demonstrations against the military presence in the region. The Kashmir conflict has already claimed over 60,000 victims and the entire region is in a state of trauma. Furthermore, it is primarily the conflict within the population that is responsible for further unrest. Many young men who come to Kashmir with the intention of protecting the populace originate from poor, rural regions and are seen as foreigners: they do not speak the language and belong to other cultures and religions. Several political and religious factions exploit this situation for their own purposes. They add fuel to the hate and mistrust within the local populace and form a front against the people they are actually supposed to protect. Spyra’s impressive black-and-white photography draws attention to the fate and suffering of the indigenous population. The intention is clear: viewers of these images not only see the situation in Kashmir, but also experience it on an emotional level and empathize with the local people.
Andy Spyra was born in Hagen in 1984. After taking his university qualification examinations, he worked for a year as a freelance photographer for a local newspaper before he began studying photography in 2007 at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Hanover.