Sony World Photography Awards: Living in the Realm of the River People

Magical images of indigenous island people and their struggle for survival have landed Argentine Alejandro Chaskielberg the top prize at the prestigious Sony World Photography Awards in London. Two German photographers were also honored -- one for a series on pubic hair toupees.

Alejandro Chaskielberg spent two years with the inhabitants of the river islands of the Paranį Delta in Argentina, at the mouth of the Paranį river which runs 4,000 kilometers from its source in Brazil. Many of the people he portrayed, most of whom are descendents of the Guarani indians, had never seen a camera before.

The former press photographer and documentary filmmaker had to show a great deal of patience. He integrated himself into their lives, accompanying them at work and in everyday life. "Using photography, I have been able to present another version of the Paranį river delta and its community that has been photographically ignored throughout the years," says Chaskielberg about his portraits. "I used the full moon as a key element in composition and lighting, while the islanders remained still for up to 10 minutes," he explains.

All the hard work paid off for Chaskielberg, whose "High Tide" series won him the photographer of the year award -- known as the L'Iris D'Or -- on Wednesday at the Sony World Photography Awards in London. "This year's panel of judges found no great difficulty in agreeing to honor the powerful work of Alejandro Chaskielberg's series High Tide," said Francis Hodgson, chairman of the honorary judging committee. "These carefully directed pictures tell solid truths -- about toil and communality and marginal economic survival -- in a splendidly allusive way."

Germans Amongst the Winners

The awards, moved to the British capital for the first time from their previous home in Cannes, are part of the World Photography Festival, and were launched in 2007. There are 15 award categories and Chaskielberg took home $25,000 for landing the biggest prize. The jury included, amongst others, Elisabeth Biondi, the visuals editor of the New Yorker, Berlin gallery owner Caprice Horn and Bremen-born photographer Julia Fullerton-Batten.

In addition to the professional awards, there was also an open competition with 10 categories. The overall winner and Amateur Photographer of the Year -- an award which came with a $5,000 prize -- went to Chan Kwok Hung from Hong Kong. The 37-year-old jeweller convinced the jury with his dramatic photo called "Buffalo Race," which he took in Indonesia.

In the professional ranks, two German photographers took home gongs: Saja Seus from Stuttgart won the Lifestyle category with her series on pubic hair toupees called "The Parting." And Paul Gisbert from Cologne was chosen by the jury as the conceptual photographer of the year for his images on the theme of body and space.

A lifetime achievement award was presented to Bruce Davidson, who was on the judging panel himself in 2009. The 77-year-old American is famous for his pictures of a Brooklyn gang in the 1950s, the American Civil Rights movement and the residents of an apartment block in Spanish Harlem.

The winning works will be on display until May 22 at Somerset House in London.

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