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From the series ‘Nemo’s Garden’ © Giacomo d’Orlando, Overall Winner and Winner of the Documentary Category, Indian Photo Festival Photographer of the Year Award
“Pokhran, desert city in the northern state of Rajasthan, witnessed the second biggest nuclear test in the summer of 1998 in the Pokhran firing range, 2.5 km from nearby Khetolai village.” © Chinky Shukla, 2nd Prize, Documentary Category, Indian Photo Festival Photographer of the Year Award

The winners and shortlisted entries for this year’s Indian Photo Festival Photographer of the Year Award (IPOY) draw attention to some of the most overlooked environmental stories of a generation, spanning decades and continents. 

In the desert villages of Khetolai, Loharki, and Chacha, Chinky Shukla traces the painful scars left behind by the Pokhran-II nuclear tests–part of India’s Operation Smiling Buddha. More than two decades later, village residents continue to experience cases of cancer, cerebral palsy, intellectual disability, and miscarriage. 

“In the summer of 1998, India conducted a series of underground nuclear test codenamed Operation Shakti. Khaju Khan, a shepherd, was out in the desert pastures with his flock on that day.” © Chinky Shukla, 2nd Prize, Documentary Category, Indian Photo Festival Photographer of the Year Award
From the series ‘Tracing her Tread: A destined journey’ © Santanu Dey, Honorable Mention, Documentary Category, Indian Photo Festival Photographer of the Year Award

Transporting us some 1,000 kilometers South to Maharashtra, Santanu Dey reveals the reality of an agrarian crisis responsible for profound financial insecurity and rising rates of suicide among farmers. Meanwhile, more than 3,000 away, Daniela Sala covers a water crisis in Hasaka, Syria, in the aftermath of drought and the Turkish occupation of the Alouk water station. In this city, 460,000 people have been affected, with refugees and children cut off from water; one family told Sala that they spend a quarter of their monthly budget on purchasing water from trucks. 

From the series ‘Syria Water War’ © Daniela Sala, Honorable Mention, Documentary Category, Indian Photo Festival Photographer of the Year Award
From the series ‘Saamis, we used to live in the Tundra’ © Natalya Saprunova, 3rd Prize, Documentary Category, Indian Photo Festival Photographer of the Year Award

In Lovozero, a locality in Russia, Natalya Saprunova warns of the dangers of cutting communities off from natural resources: her work brings to light the experiences of the Saami people, who were forced out of nomadic lands in the tundra and into apartment buildings in the 1920s amid the rise of the Soviet Union. A century later, they continue to fight to keep their culture and language alive, complicated by the strain of worsening global warming. 

Importantly, The Indian Photo Festival Photographer of the Year Award (IPOY) isn’t limited by any single genre or subject–and not all of the winning work addresses issues relating to the environment. With categories for wedding, street, mobile, wildlife, landscape, portrait, and press photography, the awards recognize a vast array of single images and projects on any and all topics, from the epic to the everyday. 

“A priest prepares to perform the last rites of a patient who died of COVID-19 during a mass cremation at a crematorium on May 01, 2021 in New Delhi, India” © Anindito Mukherjee, Winner, Press Category, Indian Photo Festival Photographer of the Year Award

But there are recurring themes throughout that speak to the most pressing concerns of the 21st century, mostly through the intimate perspective of the individuals most affected. The winner of the Press category, Anindito Mukherjee, is another standout, recognized for an image from a priest performing last rights at a mass cremation amid India’s Covid crisis last year–a searing reminder of the dangers of zoonotic disease and a pandemic from which we’ve not yet emerged.  The theme of displacement and the loss of one’s homeland emerges once again in the work of Sergei Stroitelev, whose winning portrait features a sixteen-year-old refugee from Ukraine. 

“Elmira (16) is a refugee from Ukraine. She fled to Moldova now living in a shelter in ascetic conditions. The image of the sunflowers from her phone projected on her reminds about [the] girl’s prewar past.” © Sergei Stroitelev, Winner, Portrait Category, Indian Photo Festival Photographer of the Year Award

When viewed together, the winning images–many made photographers on the frontlines of climate change and conflict–are a testament to the power of exposing the truth, brutal though it may be, before it’s too late. More than anything, these are photographs that remain in your mind’s eye long after you turn away (or click out of your internet browser). They deserve to be witnessed in person as well as online, and they will be on view as part of the Indian Photo Festival in Hyderabad from November 18th through December 19th. 

Finally, and perhaps most powerfully, running through these complex stories of loss and uncertainty, you’ll also discover bright glimmers of hope, human resilience, and environmental care. There are many, but one of the most notable comes from the overall winner of the Indian Photo Festival Photographer of the Year Award, Giacomo d’Orlando. Taking home top honors at this year’s awards, the photographer has committed himself to uncovering potential solutions to the climate crisis. His work with Nemo’s Garden, a sustainable, underwater greenhouse in Italy, provides a blueprint for a better future. 

From the series ‘Nemo’s Garden’ © Giacomo d’Orlando, Overall Winner and Winner of the Documentary Category, Indian Photo Festival Photographer of the Year Award

The winners of the Indian Photo Festival Photographer of the Year Award share a prize pool worth $33,000, including cash prizes, gear, and more. In addition to showing at IPF this fall, the winning work will be part of an international exhibition tour. We’ve just scratched the surface of this year’s winners, so we urge you to explore all the 2022 standouts here

From the series ‘Saamis, we used to live in the Tundra’ © Natalya Saprunova, 3rd Prize, Documentary Category, Indian Photo Festival Photographer of the Year Award
From the series ‘Tracing her Tread: A destined journey’ © Santanu Dey, Honorable Mention, Documentary Category, Indian Photo Festival Photographer of the Year Award
From the series ‘Syria Water War’ © Daniela Sala, Honorable Mention, Documentary Category, Indian Photo Festival Photographer of the Year Award

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