Sometimes you have to listen to an artist to really understand the true meaning behind their work. Sometimes. I’ve always been satisfied with looking at the work of a photographer or artist and coming to my own conclusions about their statement. But on a rare occasion, when you listen to an artist talk about their work and the meaning behind it, it really fulfils the intention and moment of the piece or series. I was reminded of this during a trip to Berlin to attend the prestigious Leica Oskar Barnak Awards and Exhibition last October.
With the photography world saturated by ‘people with cameras’ and fueled by social media bots, it was refreshing to discover that I was stood in a room full of real artists, surrounded by images that were not just willingly taken with a Leica camera, but with heart and spirit. And you could FEEL it. It was that simple. You could feel it.
I learnt a long time ago that true artists don’t concern themselves with what others are doing because they’re too focused on their own creating. Being individual and realising your own vision overrides everything else. If your focus is more on who is doing what, then you’re probably not at the stage of ‘artist’.
The body of work in the room was so much more empowering than a bunch of Instagram posts with millions of likes and unquestionably inspiring – an entirely overused word, but certainly relevant here. It would also be honest for me to say that attending these awards had a profound effect on me as a photographer and as an editor. It reminded me why I do what I do and that we must never compromise. Look at how good an artist each person is, their integrity, their authenticity – those are the elements that matter, not how many likes somebody has on Instagram or how good you are at manufacturing an aesthetically pleasing profile. You should be far too busy for that.
Belgian photographer Max Pinckers won the Leica Oskar Barnack Award 2018 and Russian photographer Mary Gelman won the Newcomer Award 2018 – a selection of each series is featured here. The Leica Oskar Barnack Award 2019 is now open for submissions.
Words by Ian Cole, Editor-in-Chief
Exhibition and awards photography by Ian Cole using Leica CL