For the second year since its inauguration in 2018, independent photographic publisher Palm* Studios is running its Palm* Photo Prize, the official satellite event to Photo London Fair. Last year, the prize received over 2500 submissions, with awards going to some of our own favourites, Max Miechowski (People’s Choice Award) and Garrett Grove (Judge’s Panel 2nd Place). The judges of this year’s prize are senior curator at The Photographers’ Gallery Karen McQuaid, Tate Modern assistant curator Sarah Allen, writer and artist David Campany, and photo editor at Polaroid Originals Jessica Lopez.
Priding itself on a no-fees policy in an effort to democratise the competition and foreground the quality of the work over monetary factors, Palm* Photo Prize seeks to draw together a diverse range of talent from across the globe. This approach reflects the ethos of Palm* Studios which, as its editor and curator Lola Paprocka (alongside fellow photographer Pani Paul) tells us, “set out to create a community”, without excluding anyone on the basis of class or economic means. And it’s more than paid off – “we’ve had over 3860 submissions with images from all over the world,” says Lola. “There’ve been entries from established photographers all the way through to brilliant up-and-comers. I’m incredibly proud of the standard this year.”
With no constraints placed on style or photographic discipline – the only specifications for submissions being “strong stand alone images” and “engaging work of the highest quality” – this year’s shortlist of 104 photographs spans documentary and street photography, portraiture, studio shots, still lifes, nature and landscapes. Speaking of the selection process, Lola says that “there’s definitely a ‘Palm* aesthetic’ and first and foremost, this box had to be ticked. It’s hard to actually put into words what that aesthetic is – it’s a combination of things, but quality is paramount. I think I’m quite open-minded though when it comes to content.” This is clear from the lineup which, beyond the UK and the USA, includes work from Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Hungary, South Africa, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Spain, France, Italy and Germany.
Among the finalists are published photographers like Zora J Murff, visiting assistant professor of photography at the University of Arkansas, with a portrait from his publication At No Point In Between, a photobook interrogating historical and contemporary racial hierarchies and the place of the black body in the American social and physical landscape. There is also work from acclaimed Ukrainian photography duo Synchrodogs, Tania Shcheglova and Roman Noven, who made the shortlist with a hybrid landscape-abstract piece that deviates slightly from their usual focus on the human body in nature, but which echoes their characteristic merging of symbolism and the natural environment.
Also shortlisted is a striking image from a series on the traditional Indian sport of Mallakhamb, shot in Mumbai by up-and-coming British photographer Vivek Vadoliya, whose work explores masculinity and South Asian identity. Indeed, many of the showcased images pivot around this theme of identity as it relates to a place and its people: Kent Andreasen’s shot of a figure sitting outside a street-stall in Cape Town, Sarah Pannell’s flash-filled picture of a woman in a headscarf climbing a tree in Iran, Sophie Jane Stafford’s photograph of women participating in the 2018 World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan, and Thuy Vy’s portrait of Yolngu-born actor and traditional dancer, David Gulpilil, photographed in the Australian bush. Dispersed among these are still lifes and interior shots which pay close attention to composition, like Paula Codoñer’s vibrant, floral blur, and Benjamin Bustamante’s all-American kitchen scene of waffles and maple syrup. Some of the more nascent talent includes Bristol-based Kamilla Lozinska with her haunting monochrome reverse-portrait, and Sabrina Usia from Copenhagen, whose photograph of a reclining dancer is a homage to female strength and form.
Regular readers of It’s Nice That may also recognise the fantastically lit portrait of a man sitting among marram grass in the fading California sun, shot by Los Angeles-based Pat Martin and published as part of our piece on him last year. Another familiar name is Warsaw-based Zuza Krajewska, featured on It’s Nice That a couple of years ago for her series of photographs taken at a young offenders institution. Her Palm* Photo Prize entry, an intimate double-portrait with beautiful attention to detail and texture, is a personal favourite of ours.
The shortlisted images will be exhibited at The Print Space Gallery from 14 – 17 May. The finalists will be whittled down to a first and second prize chosen by the judging panel, as well as two People’s Choice Awards, one elected at the exhibition’s opening and another voted for on Instagram. From what we can see, and from what Lola tells us, it’s going to be a tricky one – “the overall quality this year is exceptional… I can pretty much guarantee that everyone will find an image they’ll love.”