The IAFOR Documentary Photography Award was launched by The International Academic Forum (IAFOR) in 2015 as an international photography award that seeks to promote and assist in the professional development of emerging documentary photographers and photojournalists. The award has benefitted since the outset from the expertise of an outstanding panel of internationally renowned photographers, including Dr Paul Lowe as the Founding Judge, and Ed Kashi, Simon Roberts, Simon Norfolk and Emma Bowkett as Guest Judges.
Now in its third year, the award has already been widely recognised by those in the industry and has been supported by World Press Photo, British Journal of Photography (Official Media Partner), Metro Imaging, MediaStorm, Think Tank Photo, University of the Arts London, RMIT University, The Centre for Documentary Practice, and the Medill School of Journalism.
The medium of photography was invented and developed at a time when early exponents were already well aware of the unique emotional power of images to shape and influence opinion. Over the years, the supposed impartial camera that “never lies” has been used to document our existences, familiarise ourselves with the foreign, strange and unfamiliar, and help shape and control our fashions, beliefs and thoughts.
Good documentary photographers and photojournalists abide by a commitment to truth, balance and fairness. Of course, these same tenets or heuristics apply to the wider world of journalism, as well as to academia, but where these are constrained by the medium of language, form, space and place, one photograph in its power and immediacy can impact peoples and governments in a way the written word cannot.
This responsibility of this power is enormous, and strong images and their strong and frequently uncomfortable narrative have allowed documentary photographers and photojournalists with a strong commitment to social justice to force and raise awareness of certain issues, and to galvanise campaigners and reformers, ensuring that ideas that need to be communicated are put on the agenda.
From the early muckrakers and photo essayists of the nineteenth century, such as Jacob Riis in New York, who shocked the middle classes by revealing the living conditions of the poor in their own city slums, to such iconic single images as Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, which personified the Great Depression of the 1930s in a portrait of both resilience and precarity, to war photographs depicting the terrifying drama of the moment, such as Nick Ut’s image of the naked girl screaming in pain after a napalm attack in the Vietnam War. More recently, we are reminded of the unbearable stillness of the sleeping child on a Greek beach, who in a split second we realise will never awaken.
As an organisation, IAFOR’s mission is to promote international exchange, facilitate intercultural awareness, encourage interdisciplinary discussion, and generate and share new knowledge. In keeping with this mission, in appreciation of the great value of photography as a medium that can be shared across borders of language, culture and nation, and to influence and inform our academic work and programmes, the IAFOR Documentary Photography Award was launched as a competition that would help underline the importance of the organisation’s aims, and would promote and recognise best practice and excellence.
Winners of the IAFOR Documentary Photography Award are announced each summer at The European Conference on Media, Communication & Film (EuroMedia) in Brighton, UK. The award follows the theme of the conference, with 2017’s theme being “History, Story, Narrative”.
In support of up-and-coming talent, the IAFOR Documentary Photography Award is free to enter.