CENTER’s Project Launch Winner: Johnny Miller
Johnny Miller received CENTER’s Project Launch Award from three significant jurors. His project, Unequal Scenes, looks at the separation of communities from the air for a profound look at the haves and have-nots. Christy Havranek, Photo Director for The Huffington Post Dewi Lewis, Publisher Dewi Lewis Publishing, and Mazie Harris, Assistant Curator, Department of Photographs, J. Paul Getty Museum, CA have selected Johnny’s project and all three of their juror statements follow.
The Project Launch is granted to an outstanding photographer working on a fine art series or documentary project. The grant includes a cash award to help complete or disseminate the works, as well as providing a platform for exposure and professional development opportunities.This grant is awarded to complete or nearly completed projects that would benefit from the grant award package. It requires signature of a contract to participate in an exhibition during Review Santa Fe.
Christy Havranek, Photo Director, The Huffington Post
Christy Havranek is the Photo Director at the Huffington Post. With 17 years experience in photo and digital media, she has previously worked in a variety of industries, all centered on photography: Frommer’s Travel, NBC Universal, Polo Ralph Lauren and Bloomsbury Publishing, among others.
We are constantly surrounded by images. We check Instagram the minute we wake up, expect high-quality photos to accompany the news we read, and are inundated daily with advertising.
So, what makes for compelling, game-changing photography? What makes a body of work not only demand our immediate attention but — more importantly — keep it?
As I looked through submissions, what kept my attention was work that tackled universal themes through distinctly original and subversive methodology. I gravitated toward photography that pushed boundaries, gave me a sense of place, and also transported me.
These projects speak to our current global moment — a point where everything seems volatile and fraught with anxiety. And yet, I saw heartening glimmers of hope, community, and tenderness. Recurring themes surrounding identity, displacement, death, and the rural landscape connected to our basic humanity and shed light on everyday issues. The personal is political.
I chose work that resonated with me for days after I first saw them, as well as projects whose artistry and ingenuity could not be ignored. That’s what great art does — it seeps into our subconscious and makes us discover something we didn’t know before. Photography shouldn’t always be easy to look at, or even comfortable. It should challenge us and our perceptions.
As a community, industry, and as storytellers, how do we best push our medium forward and beyond? We continue to invent methods of visual storytelling. We deconstruct processes. We bear witness to moments and artfully, thoughtfully, document them. I’m deeply honored to be a juror for the 2017 Project Launch. Thank you to Center for trusting me with this responsibility; I can’t wait to see what the future holds for our medium.
Dewi Lewis, Publisher Dewi Lewis Publishing
Dewi Lewis established his publishing house in 1994. Internationally known, its authors have included photographers such as Martin Parr, Simon Norfolk, Pentti Sammallahti, Paolo Pellegrin, Sergio Larrain, and Anders Petersen as well as many younger emerging photographers. He works in close collaboration with a number of European publishers and was a founding member of The European Publishers Award for Photography, which ran for 21 years until 2015.
The range of work submitted for the Project Launch is enormous – and the challenge to select down to reach a shortlist immense. Inevitably, when faced with so much strong work, many excellent projects fail to make the final cut.
This year’s winner Johnny Miller was, however, not a difficult choice. His project, ‘Unequal Scenes’. brings a new visual vocabulary to an issue we are all aware of. These are powerful aerial images confirming something we sense but often turn our back on – the painfully close proximity within which wealth and poverty co-exist, the blatant inequalities that society does little to redress.
Often, as a member of any jury you sense a zeitgeist, a particular theme or focus that is repeated across many projects. Interestingly, for me, in these submissions I wasn’t consciously aware of this at all. The range of subjects and styles has been wide. I’ve enjoyed studio portraits of sheep, felt guilty at the sad fate of the captive Polar Bear and been introduced to worlds totally new to me, many swiftly vanishing from sight.
Mazie Harris, Assistant Curator, Department of Photographs, J. Paul Getty Museum, CA
Mazie M. Harris is an Assistant Curator in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, where she specializes in American photography. She has worked with photography collections at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College; the Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the National Gallery of Art; the Center for Creative Photography; and the Harvard Art Museums.
Being a photographer comes with responsibilities: an obligation to look carefully at the world and a duty to help other people to see it anew. That can mean offering fresh perspective on an often overlooked detail of daily life. Or it can mean providing a glimpse into a community to which we might not normally have access. It’s not easy to hold attention these days, as images flow by so quickly with the simple swipe of a finger across a screen, but many of the photographers we reviewed took their responsibilities seriously. Several were especially adept, wielding tried and true tools—careful selection of subjects, thoughtful framing, tonal range—to urge more careful consideration of today’s most pressing concerns: vanishing ways of life, the legacies of the past, environmental degradation, identity politics, systemic inequalities. The photographers to which I was particularly drawn didn’t just point and shoot but attentively composed, edited, and sequenced their work. They didn’t merely take photographs, they made them.
Many of the more elliptical images, those that addressed contemporary concerns indirectly, were particularly arresting. Some of the projects I found most engaging juxtaposed or layered images, creating complicated visual fields that required time to navigate and to try to unpack. I appreciated the chance for different views of otherwise well-rehearsed relationships with nature, with history, with the built environment, with our bodies, and with each other.
In their statements, several photographers referenced the difficulties of making their work. The sheer number of applicants is testimony of artistic perseverance in the face of logistical, physical, emotional, and financial complications. It’s heartening. Actually, it’s more than that. It demonstrates the power of photographs to raise awareness, to spark laughter, to foster empathy, and to stimulate dialogue. We’re sorely in need of each lately.
Johnny Miller (b.1981) is the Founder and creative force behind AfricanDrone and Unequal Scenes. He is based in Cape Town, South Africa, and has extensive networks and knowledge of contemporary African and world issues. His focus is on the urban, cultural, and social issues facing humanity in a fast-changing world.
He has received worldwide acclaim for his project “Unequal Scenes”, an aerial exploration of inequality in South Africa.
Inequalities in our social fabric are oftentimes hidden, and hard to see from ground level. Visual barriers, including the structures themselves, prevent us from seeing the incredible contrasts that exist side by side in our cities.
The beauty of being able to fly is to see things from a new perspective – to see things as they really are. Looking straight down from a height of several hundred meters, incredible scenes of inequality emerge. Some communities have been expressly designed with separation in mind, and some have grown more or less organically. The locations in these photographs represent the frustrations, the setbacks, the fear, and the desires of the millions who live in similar situations.
All the locations pictured here were researched using data and mapping software to find highly economically unequal locations, which were then photographed and recorded using a DJI Inspire drone. The final images were not photoshopped or modified in any way, except for basic cropping, exposure, and color corrections.
The images speak to the issues of inequality in our society in an unambiguous, objective way. By providing a new perspective on an old problem, I hope to provoke a dialogue which can begin to address the issues of inequality and disenfranchisement in a constructive and peaceful way.
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