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Australian photographer wins US$120K HIPA award

Australian underwater photographer, Jasmine Carey, has won the Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum International Photography Award (HIPA), taking home US$120,000 – the world’s biggest photography cash prize.

Jasmine’s winning photo, Essence of Life, which has earned her $172K.

Jasmine is the first Australian and first female to win the ninth HIPA contest, which was established by the crown prince of Dubai. The Queensland photographer has been a scuba diver since 2005, and began taking underwater photography seriously in 2014. Remarkably, HIPA is one of the first major photo contest she has entered.

Her photo, Essence Of Life, shows a humpback whale mother sleeping alongside her two-week-old baby. The photo was captured in the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific.

This year the HIPA theme was ‘water’.

Here’s an excerpt of Jasmine’s photo blurb:
The rain today fell rhythmically in a soothing pitter-patter on the water’s surface, gently lulling a mother and her calf into a very relaxed and comforting sleep. As we floated and watched into the deep, the sound of the rhythm faded just a little and the ocean calmed just enough for the tranquil pair to rise up, meeting the light rays just starting to break through the surface.

Inside Imaging contacted Jasmine to find out more.

Jasmine Carey. Source:

When did you capture the image?
I captured the image at the end of July 2019. The start of the humpback whale migration in Vava’u, The Kingdom of Tonga, is mid-July, this is the time where you’ll find very young calves with their mothers.

How long were you photographing the sleeping humpbacks?
We had been on the boat all morning, and found this mother and calf pair as we headed out towards deeper waters. This particular mother was having a breath hold of 17-20 minutes, the calf 3-4 minutes, and we spent much of that time floating on the surface watching them. We would have spent about 30-40 minutes observing them, before swimming and spending another 40 minutes (watching them).

What else can you tell us about the photo?
The position of the mother is very unique, she was very comfortable sleeping vertically like that. As she rose she would spend a couple of minutes with the tip of her nose out of the water until she was ready to bob on the surface and breath before diving and repeating the entire routine again. The calf was very young, shy but grew in confidence and curiosity the longer we watched on.

What made you enter this photo in the awards?
My first serious exhibition was a couple of years ago, when I was invited to be a part of Loud and Luminous, a project featuring 100 Australian Women photographers. That was really good for my own confidence in my work. From there, I thought it was time I challenged myself further and I thought entering competitions might be another way of pushing myself to create better pictures. The HIPA theme for this last year was water, so it seemed to be a great place to start.

When did photography get serious for you?
It got serious in 2014 when I wanted to learn underwater photography. It seemed like such an impossible task, as nobody scuba diving I saw ever looked comfortable doing it. They just kept chasing all the critters away. In 2014 I started doing underwater photography workshops hosted by Darren Jew and Gary Cranitch, and they totally got me addicted. I was already addicted to diving and this was the time. I then went on my first whale swim trip, and I knew it was what I wanted to do. So I volunteered for a lot of projects, even if it was just to carry items, assist and be the safety diver. That really helped. I paid special attention to animal behaviour – observing and preempting their subtle movements.

What do you look for in an underwater wildlife photo? What elements make it challenging?
When looking at an underwater life image, I want to be transported there. Beneath the waterline can be so alien to people and the feeling of invitation, or curiosity, even interesting characters and joy just makes it (to me) something I want to look at over and over and allow my imagination to wander. Everything underwater is challenging. Especially the water itself. the swimming, the breath hold, or the buoyancy on scuba, the limited time you have, the moving animals, you’re moving, the light, the unknown or uncertainly, will you see what you’re hoping for.

Are there any photographers who have mentored or inspired you?
There are so many photographers, artists and/or designers that influence me. I absorb it all. Though the people who have influenced me directly or mentored me, either through the art of capturing to even having the greatest of attitudes for their work, are Darren Jew, Gary Cranitch, Greg Crow, Colin Baker and Greg Sullivan, Gene Kam and Ms Susie Wong. Also every one of the guests on our trips have inspired me on so many levels and it has actually sculpted the way I shoot, how I visualise, and how I want to present my shot.

Lastly, this is the biggest cash prize in photography. How does it feel to win?
Dubai’s commitment to the prize really shows how different societies value photography and the arts. The competition’s aim is to spread the culture of photography across the world. I do believe that a photo speaks all languages. It can evoke such great emotion, strength, connection and unity. In today’s world, there there can, at times, be a disconnect where there is too much language and talk with not much action. Photography can be that visual vehicle to showcase the stories of required action, results, solutions and support. And well like others in the arts, events and travel, we’ve taken a significant hit in 2020 so it couldn’t have come at a better time really. hopefully, it will get us through until we can evolve into whatever the new normal looks like.

Check out Jasmine’s work here.

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