Portraits of Love and Loss From Around the World

An exploration into the generational impact of Britain’s eroding eastern coastline and intimate documentation of a three-person family in China are just two bodies of work that received this year’s LensCulture Portrait Awards.

The Amsterdam-based photography contest announced the 39 winners of its 11th competition on April 11. An international eight-person jury selected six winners across two categories, Series and Singles Images, each receiving cash prizes ranging from $500 to $3,500. The winning works will be displayed at the LensCulture exhibition in next year’s Photo London art fair and receive solo features in the organization’s online magazine.

“Portraits can be endlessly alluring, due to the simple fact that we, as humans, are endlessly curious about other humans,” said Jim Casper, who co-founded LensCulture in 2004. “How do others present themselves to us? What are their circumstances? How do they live, work, play, love, survive? How are we different from each other? How are we alike?”

The jury also selected eight photographers for special distinction awards and recognized 25 finalists. Their work can be viewed on LensCulture’s website. Read on to learn more about the winning artists and their work.

Series Winners

Max Miechowski — Land Loss (2023)

British photographer Max Miechowski earned first place in the Series category for his work Land Loss, which examines the generations of residents living along Britain’s eastern shore, one of the fastest eroding coastlines in Europe.

“I expected to find storms, rough seas, ruined houses falling into the waves. A sense of urgency from the people living on the edge of a landscape, where entire towns have been lost to the North Sea,” the artist said in a statement. “Instead, the land felt still, the waters were calm, and time appeared to move slowly.”

Zihan Wei — I Did Nothing Other Than to Tell Them to Smile (2022)

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Zihan Wei’s “Happy birthday” (2022) from I Did Nothing Other Than to Tell Them to Smile (© Zihan Wei)

Second-place winner Zihan Wei used photography as a means to reconcile her relationship with her parents. The resulting images reveal the intimate awkwardness that permeated the project as she and her parents grew more comfortable with the camera’s presence.

In a statement, the China-based photographer explained that she began the series by attempting to engage her parents by playing pranks.

“When they refused to take these kinds of strange photos, I persuaded them by telling them: ‘It’ s a wedding photo.’ They had never taken wedding pictures in the past, so they were convinced. They thought, ‘Maybe this is art,’” Wei said in a statement.

Kairo Urovi — Light Are the Wounds Heavy Is the Wind (2023)

London-based photographer Kairo Urovi contends with identity and family diaspora through his ongoing project Light Are the Wounds, described as “a love letter to Albania and a powerful expression of trans resilience and visibility” on the artist’s website. In this series, Urovi’s black-and-white images explore the nuances of displacement in terms of geography and gender identity.

Single Image Winners

Erçin Ertürk — “The Bitter Face of War” (2023)

Ercin Erturk
Erçin Ertürk, “The Bitter Face of War” (2023) (© Erçin Ertürk)

Turkish photojournalist Erçin Ertürk examines Russia’s ongoing war on Ukraine through his vulnerable portrait of Sergey Raylyan, a Ukrainian soldier who was the victim of a 2022 car explosion when he and his fellow soldiers drove a truck into an anti-tank mine, causing him to lose his vision and ability to walk.

“This is the bitter face of the war that Russia has been waging on Ukraine for almost two years now,” said Ertürk. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, at least 10,000 civilians have been killed and more than 18,500 civilians injured, according to the United Nations.

Nadia Bautista — “Oriel & Juanma” (undated)

Nadia Bautista
Nadia Bautista, “Oriel & Juanma” (undated) (© Nadia Bautista)

Queer Argentinian artist Nadia Bautista explores the many facets of love through her intimate project What is love for you?, illustrating the expansive ways in which individuals show love for one another.

“[L]ove is the company, the time and the affection that we express in different ways to those people we love. Celebrating their achievements, embracing their wounds, encouraging their desires and accepting them to be, in freedom,” Bautista explained in a statement.

Slava Lyu-fa — “Medina” (2023)

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Slava Lyu-fa, “Medina” (2023) (© Slava Lyu-fa)

Russian photographer Slava Lyu-fa presents an unfiltered view of labor and single motherhood through his portrait of Madina, a dairy plant worker in Yakutsk, Russia. After her husband left during her first pregnancy, she ultimately went on to raise three children by herself. Madina has spent nearly 40 years working at the same dairy plant, where she “washes big trucks of milk in a large garage,” according to Lyu-Fa.

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