After my slightly disappointing press view of the Sony World Photography Awards exhibition, when I didn't have the opportunity to take in the photos, I made a return trip to Somerset House yesterday to rectify this situation. I had much more time to wander through both the East and West Wings, admiring the images and pontificating on the judges' choices. Visiting an exhibition that has cherry-picked from vast numbers of photos submitted from across the globe by both amateur and professional photographers gives you the chance to look for trends and fashions, garner some inspiration, and importantly, look through a window into other people's worlds. I enjoyed my saunter through the rooms and Sara Naomi Lewkowicz's l'Irs d'Or winning series Shane and Maggie stands out a mile. I loved Sophie Gamand's wet dogs, which won the portrait prize, Guy Martin's photos from the Gezi Square protests told a defiant story, and I was drawn to the deep and dark photos in Salvatore Di Gregorio's series An Old Fight, which won the sport prize.
What, though, were my overwhelming thoughts and questions as I left the exhibition?
The professional category was dominated by black and white images. That is a comment made as neither praise nor criticism, merely as an observation. It is worth noting, however, that l'Iris d'Or winning series comprised colour images and that the photos that have stuck with me are those shot in colour. Maybe it is because they were my preferred shots, or perhaps it is because their colour makes them stand out amongst the monochrome, but it does pay to be different.
Writing of daring to be different, I think I might've reached Indonesian cow-racing photo saturation point. It's a stunning spectacle that produces stunning images, but there have been examples in the professional or open categories for at least the last three years. It's almost as if their inclusion has become obligatory. I'd appreciate being able to gaze upon something new in future years.
Finally, I was surprised by the profusion of manipulated images in the open category. From HDR, to composites, to painterly-type blending, it had it all, and this extended beyond the 'Enhanced' division, which is devoted to manipulated images. As the author of a book on surreal photography, this might be regarded as an unusual comment, but it does present some important questions. First, how much manipulation is too much manipulation? Second, to what degree is photo-manipulation now regarded as an acceptable element of photography? And consequently, at which point does a comeptition become one of photo-manipulation rather than photography? All of these are questions for another day, but ones to ponder.
The exhibition runs until Sunday (18 May), and if you have to be in London or its environs, it's worth an hour or so to take it in. I'd love to know what you think.
Sony World Photography Awards exhibition, Somerset House, London, until 18 May 2014.