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Australians dominate 2023 ‘International’ Portrait Awards

The 2023 International Portrait Photographer of the Year Awards results have been announced, with Melbourne photographer Forough Yavari winning the top prize.

Salvation, Forough Yavari’s winning image. ‘Mersi, a single mother from Ghana, came to my studio for a fine art shoot. When she arrived, I sensed her detachment, lost in sorrow. Realising she couldn’t deliver the desired expression, I played her favourite music on Spotify. Watching her dance, immersed in her emotions, I quietly captured her healing journey. The resulting image, Salvation, portrays her surrounded by self-support, immersed in restoration. It captures her profound personal transformation without my intervention, and I felt mesmerised witnessing the beauty of her movement, seeking solace and strength.’ Photo: Forough Yavari.

Yavari joins a significant number of other domestically-based photographers who dominated the results, with more than a quarter of the 101 top pictures entered by Australian photographers.

As seen in many an international photo competition, Australia does punch above its weight when it comes to photographic talent. Here the high representation of top scoring Australians is probably related to the contest being owned by Sydney photographer, educator and Photoshop maestro, Peter Eastway. He also runs the digital manipulation-friendly International Landscape Photographer of the Year Awards.

Eastway’s International Portrait Awards adopts the same formula and contest criteria as the more-established International Landscape Awards: both have a top prize and category winners/finalists, top 101 entries, a returning judging panel, scoring system, contest naming style, website build, and so on. (‘When you’re on a good thing, stick to it’ as the old Mortein ad used to say!)

It’s astonishingly Yavari’s second time winning the International Portrait Photographer of the Year Awards, which is in its third year. Two out of three isn’t bad! Yavari’s work has been extremely well received more broadly on the photo contest circuit – she is currently on a hot streak when it comes to winning photo contests.

Interestingly, one of Yavari’s 2023 winning images, Salvation [above], is quite similar in its structure and concept to her 2021 winning image, Solitude [below]. Both images are composites showing multiples of the same portrait subject, with them spread across the frame like Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. Yavari has adopted this as something of a signature technique.

Solitude, Forough Yavari’s 2021 winning image. ‘Confronting loss is not easy, even impossible. It takes you from being sad to calm, from feeling angry to face loneliness. You try avoid it and resist it and even physically get away from it, but you can’t, and it ages you and hurts you. This is someone that is still in a lot of pain from loss, not that they’ll ever be pain-free, but they haven’t hit the bottom of the curve yet’.

The portrait photographer was born in Iran where she pursued painting, and after moving to Australia in 2011 began building her photography business.

‘Increasingly, she found her work to be influenced by her personal experience as a woman from a Middle Eastern country. Her interest in women’s issues led to two series, “Revision of Portraits” and “Eternal Icons,” which were exhibited in Iran and Australia,’ her website bio states. ‘Her recent series, “Salvation,” was motivated by the poetry of Langston Hughes, which she read during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement. These dramatic portraits of Black women are mixed media works, in which Forough adds 24K hand-made gold pigment to the printed image.’

Vanity, part of Forough Yavari’s winning portfolio.

Yavari states she mostly uses Capture One and Photoshop for editing, with post-production ‘like the final touch, enhancing the story, or adding the atmosphere, or making a composite where it is not possible to take the image in one shot’.

‘During my journey in photography and fine art, I learned good technique is as necessary as having creativity in my work. Knowing your camera and mastering the gear you are working with, especially lighting, is a foundation for a good image when combined with one’s creativity,’ Yavari states in her winning statement. ‘When I started painting, all my interest was in painting or drawing people and their faces. I have never been interested in still life. So when I picked up photography, I found myself more interested in taking portraits.

‘People for me are the main subject to study, to know more about them. Exploring their personality. Hearing about their life experiences and capturing those feelings, expressions, and characters. I’ve always been inspired by painters like Rembrandt, Delacroix, Goya, mostly Romantic and Baroque painters. Since the early stages of my photography career, I’ve been more inspired by women photographers like Shirin Neshat and Lalla Essaydi, and Annie Leibovitz for her techniques and stories behind her images.’

Just 704 images were entered into this year’s contest, giving entrants a 14 percent chance to land in the top 101. The odds are even higher given only two images per photographer are included, with no limit on the number of entries. That being said, landing in the top 101 required a score of between 79 – 84 out of 84, suggesting the judges found the calibre of entries high.

Back in 2021 we noted that with 948 entries – with the average submission including more than one image – there may have been fewer than 500 entrants. The same goes for this year, with potentially fewer than 350 entrants. With this is mind, it’s debatable whether the top 101 images are, as Eastway claims, a ‘collection of best portrait photographs from around the world’.

Check them out here.

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