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Book Review: The Best of LensCulture Vol. 1

From the series “Sois Belle” © Annelie Vandendael. Winner, Emerging Talent Awards
2016. From the publication “The Best of LensCulture, Volume 1.” Courtesy of LensCulture,

“How to discover the best practitioners worldwide amidst our image-filled cultures of the 21st century?”, Jim Casper, the Editor-in-Chief of LensCulture, asks in his introduction. “Our editorial team scours the globe – attending festivals, portfolio reviews, exhibitions and graduation shows – in search of new and developing talents. And each year, we organize four annual photography awards to extend our reach even further.” In addition, LensCulture sends out its calls for entries in 15 languages, uses social media and taps into photography newtworks all over the world. In other words, the LensCulture team is undoubtedly very active.

But what are the criteria for great talent? “LensCulture draws on the expertise of an international panel of jury members for each award. These jurors are active and influential in the world of photography. Thanks to their experience, they are adept at identifying photographers who are doing something special in their work. You can be assured that the 161 photographers you will discover in these pages are among the best of the best.” In other words, there are no criteria given and explained respectively.

It might of course very well be that this not exactly illuminating self-promotion – trust us, we are the experts, Jim Casper is basically saying – is well deserved. Although, to claim expertise without elaborating on the criteria employed is pretty common, I do find it not exactly convincing.

On the other hand: It is indeed difficult to define relevant criteria for judging pictures. The protagonist of Robert M. Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, who attempted to define quality, eventually came to the conclusion that such a definition is impossible yet that quality can be felt. Differently put: The more time you spend with and around photographs, the greater the likelihood that you will develop something like an educated feeling.

So, let’s look at the pics. First come the Portrait Awards and to these I warm to most and especially to the one by Luisa Dorr from Brazil.

MAYSA: Maysa is an 11-year-old girl entrenched in the poverty and trauma of one of São Paulo’s worst slums. Her possible way out? The “Young Miss Brazil” beauty pageant. Luana, Maysa’s younger sister, has decided she also wants to be a model. Photo @ Luisa Dorr. From the publication “The Best of LensCulture, Volume 1.” Courtesy of LensCulture, lensculture.com.

What draws me to this pic is first and foremost the determination that Maysa radiates. And her outfit. And how her younger sister looks up to her as a role model, or so it seems.

In the Street Photography Awards section there are lots of shots that I loved. Check out Sylvain Biard, Graciela Magnoni, Mankichi Shinshi and and and. One of my favourites is RED by Gareth Bragdon and not least because he tells the story of how he took this photograph. “It was, first and foremost, an absolute mistake”, he writes. Getting curious? You’ll find the full story in the book …

Red © Gareth Bragdon. 3rd Place Singles, LensCulture Street Photography Awards 2016.
From the publication “The Best of LensCulture, Volume 1.” Courtesy of LensCulture, lensculture.

Then there’s the section that shows works from the Emerging Talent Awards. It felt difficult to make a choice and I very probably would settle for different pictures next time. For now have a look at the one by Ben Thomas that he describes as “a further deconstruction of cities and urban areas with a primary focus on the use of color and flatness”:

Photo: Ben Thomas. CHROMA II
From the series “Chroma II” © Ben Thomas. Juror’s Pick, Emerging Talent Awards
2016. From the publication “The Best of LensCulture, Volume 1.” Courtesy of LensCulture,

In this section you will also get to see the cover photograph by Annelie Vandendael. This is how she comments on it: “Nowadays, it is no longer obvious whether we are looking at ‘real’ images or fake ones because they are all manipulated and photoshopped. But representing real people with their imperfections is far more interesting to me.”

The tome concludes with the Exposure Awards. I’d suggest to check out Einar Sigurdorsson’s ‘Sheepwatch’, Vladimir Alekseev’s ‘Life in Russia’ and Alan O’Riordan’s ‘Mending fish nets’. I’m pretty certain that looking at these pics will make you want to check out all the others in this section, and in the whole tome, too.


The Best of LensCulture Vol. 1
Schilt Publishing, Amsterdam 2017

The Best of LensCulture, Volume 1 is published by Schilt Publishing, available in stores and online for £22.50 | $29.95 | €25.

About Hans Durrer

Hans Durrer is an author and addiction counsellor based in Switzerland. www.hansdurrer.com/, 12-step-addiction-treatment.blogspot.ch/. Two of his books are in English: Ways of Perception, Bangkok 2006; Framing the World, Houston 2011.

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