Since the birth of photography in the 1800’s, the world has been on a search for the next great talent, the next great image, and the next great visionary. Now, in 2016, the Sony World Organization is leading the hunt—after combing the work of over 230, 000 photographers from 186 countries, they’ve announced the much-anticipated winners of this year’s Sony World Photography Awards, and I’m here reporting live from the opening event in London.

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The competition is broken down by first place, second place, and third place winners throughout a wide array of categories, spanning from daily life to candids to the staples of photography such as still life and portraiture. In addition, there is one L’Iris d’Or winner, taking home a $25K prize, as well as Open Photographer of the Year and Youth Photographer of Year winners for best single shots, with prizes ranging from Sony gear to exposure through a traveling exhibition. Of course, there are also plenty of other notable and honorable mentions among the competition.

So what is it, exactly, that makes a great photographer and photograph? The contest’s curator, Zelda Cheatle and an army of highly qualified jury members get to decide. No doubt, the decisions are made with years of experience, refined opinions, and the heated discussions that form around them. A fun fact: for the first time ever, the jury was unanimous on their decision for the overall winner.

“To draw upon the final round of nominated pictures in assembling this exhibition is challenging. It means the responsibility of defining the year’s photographic identity as understood by the tens of thousands of visitors to the exhibition and the millions of followers around the globe.” -Zelda Cheatle, curator

But enough talking, though. Here are the first place winners of the 2016 Sony World Photography Awards. Tell us in the comments who you would’ve chosen for Photographer of the Year, and click here for the full lineup of second and third place winners. (Note: the following artist statements have been edited for clarity).

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Amelie Labourdette (Category: Architecture)Amelie Labourdette interrogates which is in the landscape is a priori invisible. There is always a blurred zone of concern and a landscape located below the visible landscape, another landscape that is not given at first gaze. This series of photographs, Empire of dust has been realized in south Italy, in the regions of Sicily, Calabria, Basilicata and Puglia, where financial crises and embezzlement have made of the incompleteness, an architectural aesthetics. Through this series, she tries jointly through an "archeology of the present" to reflect the contemporary history by the yardstick of these unfinished architectures, while invoking the viewer’s imagination so that there unfolds “a variant of the worldâ€. On each photographs, emanates a disquieting strangeness: unfinished villa, ghost dam or building left as skeleton, all architectures reflect a real estate disaster. Their concrete body, naked and disarmed, accuse also a premature aging, cracks overgrown by vegetation or first signs of crumbling: the ruin threatens, especially palpable, that Amelie Labourdette capture these works in a lush greenery seizing of vitality , coniferous forest erected on a mountainside, palm trees and passion fruits, tall fennels with yellow flowers. In the manner of ancient ruins, these human constructions which seem to getting back to nature, to be reabsorbed by the environment they emerged one day. Concrete skeletons of major projects remained pending, of unfinished buildings, recurring patterns of our time affected by socio-economic upheavals, become also, because of their incompleteness, interstitial spaces of indeterminacy, conducive to a photographic quest, exploring the possibilities of a singular reinvestment of the world: they are proving to be, spaces and indefinite forms that have, due to their incompleteness, a «becoming-other» that the design of the initial project had dedicated them. These indefinite forms, between upcoming ruins and potential scu“Amélie Labourdette interrogates the invisible landscape, the blurred zone of concern located below the visible landscape. The Empire of Dust series was taken in the south of Italy, where financial crises and embezzlement have created an architectural aesthetic of incompleteness. Using an “archaeology of the present,” she reflects the contemporary history of these unfinished architectures and involves the viewer’s imagination so that a new view of the world unfolds. In front of these images, we become archaeologists of our time, able to look back at our present and see our future too.”

Jetmir Idrizi (Category: Campaign)Jetmir_Idrizi_Albania_Shortlist_Professional_Campaign_2016_9
“TransBrasil is an ongoing project, which aims to deepen gender identities issues from a documentary photography perspective. It proposes to approach different social and cultural expressions that question the binary schemes masculine/feminine to understand the gender and identity process. Also, this project pursuit thinks about the possibility of multiples identities. For that reason, the proposal adopts the transgender concept, understanding the trans as a dynamic space without fix tags; as a border with an identity traffic which enables plurality and freedom to choose who each person wants to be, creating a gender hybridity. Transgender people express their gender identities in many different ways. Some people use their dress, behavior and mannerisms to live as the gender that feels right for them. Some people take hormones and may have surgery to change their body so it matches their gender identity. Some transgender people reject the traditional understanding of gender as divided between just “masculine” and “feminine” so they identify just as transgender, or gender queer, gender fluid, or something else.” [sic]

Kirsten Schmitt (Category: Candid)Kirstin_Schmitt_Germany_Shortlist_Professional_Candid_2016.“The Waiting For the Candymen series is a study of Cuban idiosyncrasy; an allegory of waiting—waiting the right moment, waiting for tomorrow, waiting for something or someone who brings redemption, maybe!” 

Julien Mauve (Category: Conceptual)http://www.julienmauve.com/greetings-from-mars“This project is about space exploration and discovery, but it’s also about our behavior in front of landscapes and how we create pictures that will share our personal story with the world. In every spot, carefully chosen for their similarities with the red planet, the photographer imitated stereotypical tourist poses. It’s interesting to observe the way we act in front of the camera, how we include ourselves in the landscapes, how those landscapes trigger the desire to affirm our presence. And how the way we take pictures exposes the vanity involved in our endless pursuit of self-definition.” 

Asghar Khamseh (Category: Contemporary Issues)Acid throwing is a kind of violence and according to the official statistics and local news increased compare to the past IRAN.This kind of violence is mostly against women and children. These attacks have been done with intent to disfigure, maim, torture and destroy the social life and the future of the victim. The motivation to commit this type of violence is cultural destitiution ,intolerance and happens in situations such as family conflicts,rejected marriage proposal, revenge and divorce requests. Victims in addition physical and psychological damages are faced the experience of social stigma ,blame and social unpleasant tags .the victims are in dire need of medical and financial support and counseling services. Unfortunately there is no governmental and nongovernmental organizations to follow these issues in the country and they have to treat themselves only by public aid and donations.“The violent act of acid throwing is primarily directed towards women and children. These attacks are committed with the intent to disfigure, maim and destroy the social life and future of the victim.  The motivation to commit this type of violence is cultural destitution, intolerance, and happens in situations such as family conflicts, rejected marriage proposal, as well as revenge and divorce requests. In addition to physical and psychological damages, victims are faced with the experience of social stigma, blame, and social unpleasant tags.”

Angelos Tzortzinis (Category: Current Affairs) 

Policemen try to disperse hundreds of migrants and refugees by spraying them with fire extinguishers during a gathering for a registration procedure at the stadium on the Greek island of Kos, on August 11, 2015. Police on the Greek island on Kos hit migrants and refugees with truncheons to prevent a stampede, a day after an officer was caught on camera slapping a migrant.

“Migration to Europe has increased over the past years, mainly because of political and social turmoil in the Middle East. In recent years, Greece has been the path for thousands of refugees and migrants for crossing from Turkey to Greece and other European countries. The main places of entry are the islands of Kos and Lesbos by sea. The Greek government, in an effort to minimize the wave of refugees entering the country, has built an 8-mile long and 8-foot high barbed-wire wall at the main entrance of its north eastern borderline with Turkey. This caused a huge wave of refugees and migrants trying to enter the country by the Aegean Sea, and for many, it is their first encounter with the sea. Hundreds have lost their lives in their attempt to reach the European Union,  hoping to reunite with long-lost friends and family. At the time of writing this text, millions of refugees and migrants wait in Turkey to cross the sea border for a better life.”

Espen Rasmussen (Category: Daily Life)00619 08. Dokumentar utland 31.03.2014 4/12 Kullets forbannelse Området Peach Tree sliter med arbeidsløshet og rus. Mange av de store kullgruvene i området er stengt. Det er sent på kvelden og Bill har allerede festet en stund sammen med sin kompis. De drikker moonshine, hjemmebrent. Kullet var West Virginias gull. Så kom Obama, klimatiltak og masseoppsigelser. Nå er kullet blitt til en forbannelse. I 1940 jobbet 140.000 mennesker i fjellene, i dag er det drøyt 15.000 igjen. Steder som har satset alt på kullet, som byen Beckley, har ingen andre ben å stå på, spesielt på grunn av "The war on coal" - miljøbevelsens kamp mot kullet. Hverdagen handler mye om fyll, kriminalitet og kanskje det aller verste; Hillbilly heroin, misbruk av smertestillende tabletter. Denne dokumentaren er gjort i løpet av 2014 og 2015.“Coal used to be the gold of West Virginia. But then Obama came and set forth new environmental regulations. With lower price on coal came huge redundancies, and the coal became a curse for many of the coal-cities in West Virginia. In 1940, 140,000 people worked in the mountains, and today only about 15,000 are left in the coal business. Towns like Beckley and Mullens do not have many other sources of income. Drugs, pills, alcohol and violence is dominant many places, and young people are struggling to find work, forcing many to move away.” 

Kevin Frayer (Category: Environment)China's Kazakh Minority Preserve Culture Through Eagle Hunting in Western China

“The Eagle Hunting festival, organised by the local hunting community, is part of an effort to promote and grow traditional hunting practices for new generations in the mountainous region of western China that borders Kazakhstan, Russia, and Mongolia. The training and handling of the large birds of prey follows a strict set of ancient rules that Kazakh eagle hunters are preserving for future generations.” 

Maroesjka Lavigne (Category: Landscape)Land of Nothingness

“Named for its desert, Namibia is one of the least densely populated places on earth, visually defined by rich colours in a barren, yet constantly changing landscape; the vast brown plain of scorched earth, the white surface of the saltpans, the gold tones of the sand dunes. Patience is required to discover Namibia’s subtle scenery. Hours of driving reveal more emptiness; the sight of other people rare and only the strategically located gas stations a reminder of the world beyond. Captivated by delicately washed out landscapes you drive for hours, chaperoned by herds of giraffes or zebra, shadowed by flocks of amingos, suddenly stumbling upon a family of elephants.”

Kevin Frayer (Category: People)Tibetan Nomadic Culture Faces Challenges On The Tibetan Plateau“Tibetan nomads face many challenges to their traditional way of life including political pressures, forced resettlement by China’s government, climate change, and rapid modernisation. The Tibetan Plateau, often called ‘the Roof of the World’, is the world’s highest and largest plateau.”

Marcello Bonfanti (Category: Portraiture)Isatu Kamara with her daughter Annie. She has lost her father and her brother.“The most widespread epidemic of Ebola virus disease in Sierra Leone ended the Oct. 7, 2015 with 14,122 cases and 3,955 deaths. That required the complex and brave intervention of international NGOs in the attempt to fight the virus. The Italian NGO Emergency ran an Ebola treatment center built by DFEED. Thanks to the medical care of Emergency, were able to start a new life. They returned to life finding their families partly or totally killed by the virus.”

Nikolai Linares (Category: Sport)Nikolai_Linares_Denmark_Shortlist_Professional_Sport_2016_01“Portraits of the silver medal winners just after losing their final at the Zealand boxing Championships held in Copenhagen in March.”

Alberto Alicata (Category: Staged)Iconic B“In this project, Alberto Alicata traces the history of photography, iconic images realized by the great masters, resorting to the use of a symbol of contemporary Western culture: Barbie. Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Guy Bourdin, David Lachapelle, Mario Testino are some of the names which Alicata honors, studying carefully chosen shots and recreating a set to measure Barbie rebuilt in detail the limits of the obsessive precision, the original that inspired it, in order to strengthen the authenticity and strength of timeless images, now become part of our visual memory and intended to be timeless. Intuition playful operate this simulation, using one of the most imitated, idolized, collected and studied which is renewed in every historical period, this production puts in a dimension in the making, is intended to be enriched with new images, and more opportunity to quote unexpected suggestions.”

Francesco Amorosino (Category: Still Life)Migrant tomatoes“Once a year, Italian families make tomato sauce at home, cooking and canning a huge amount of vegetables. Tons of tomatoes are grown in the fields of the South of the Country and harvested by about 19,000 labourers, and paid 1 or 2 euro for each filled box. But in 2015, there were 13 deaths at work in the fields because of high temperatures. Many of those involved in the harvest are immigrants. On the tomatoes, still dirty with soil, bought by my family to make the sauce, I saw the fingerprints of those who had harvested them. I imagined their stories, the hours spent in the sun, the hope, the desire to work. Since then, I haven’t watched the sauce with the same eyes.”

“When I was first looking at these images when they were very small jpgs I was convinced they were blood pustules but in fact they are dirty tomatoes.” -Zelda Cheatle, curator

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And finally, the winner of the 2016 L’Iris d’Or winner is Iranian photographer Asghar Khamseh for his powerful portraits of acid attack victims. See the gallery below. 

Asghar_Khamseh_Iran_Shortlsit_Professional_Contemporary Issues_2016_1Acid throwing is a kind of violence and according to the official statistics and local news increased compare to the past IRAN.This kind of violence is mostly against women and children. These attacks have been done with intent to disfigure, maim, torture and destroy the social life and the future of the victim. The motivation to commit this type of violence is cultural destitiution ,intolerance and happens in situations such as family conflicts,rejected marriage proposal, revenge and divorce requests. Victims in addition physical and psychological damages are faced the experience of social stigma ,blame and social unpleasant tags .the victims are in dire need of medical and financial support and counseling services. Unfortunately there is no governmental and nongovernmental organizations to follow these issues in the country and they have to treat themselves only by public aid and donations.Asghar_Khamseh_Iran_Shortlsit_Professional_Contemporary Issues_2016_3 Asghar_Khamseh_Iran_Shortlsit_Professional_Contemporary Issues_2016_4Asghar_Khamseh_Iran_Shortlsit_Professional_Contemporary Issues_2016_5 Asghar_Khamseh_Iran_Shortlsit_Professional_Contemporary Issues_2016_6 Asghar_Khamseh_Iran_Shortlsit_Professional_Contemporary Issues_2016_7Acid throwing is a kind of violence and according to the official statistics and local news increased compare to the past IRAN.This kind of violence is mostly against women and children. These attacks have been done with intent to disfigure, maim, torture and destroy the social life and the future of the victim. The motivation to commit this type of violence is cultural destitiution ,intolerance and happens in situations such as family conflicts,rejected marriage proposal, revenge and divorce requests. Victims in addition physical and psychological damages are faced the experience of social stigma ,blame and social unpleasant tags .the victims are in dire need of medical and financial support and counseling services. Unfortunately there is no governmental and nongovernmental organizations to follow these issues in the country and they have to treat themselves only by public aid and donations.

Portraits of disfigurement resulting from social violence are undoubtedly a hard-hitting subject, and one which the longstanding tradition of documentary photography does not shy away from. The power of Asghar Khamseh’s imposing series ‘Fire of Hatred’ is such that he enables the viewer to face head-on intimate images, which could be testing to examine closely, with empathy and respect which in turn allows the viewer to become a witness and not just a spectator. The Jury were united in their admiration of this work and the light it shed on the tragic practice it exposes.” – Dominique Green, Chair, Documentary Jury

Kei Nomiyama (Open Photographer of the Year)
Kei Nomiyama_Japan_Open Photographer of the Year_2016 Sony World Photography Award
“The season of a firefly comes around in Japan at the beginning of a rainy sea- son. This firefly is a species called Luciola parvula, and repeats blink. Hime-HOTARU, as we call it in Japan. This species flies in the beautiful forest. In particular, the firefly in bamboo forest is valuable. The population of these firefly decreases every year in Japan. These may be influenced by environmental destruction. This picture was taken under a little moonlight.”

Sam Delaware (Youth Photographer of the Year) 

Sam_Delaware_USA_Youthh Photographer of the Year_2016 Sony World Photography Awards

“After moving to a university across the country, I understood that I’d miss my family; my mother and father, and especially my sister. Like so many millions of other young adults around me, I left my family and my home this year for the first time, and in an instant, they were no longer a daily part of my life. I wanted to somehow speak to the mixed feelings I was experiencing; excitement, for the life I was about to begin, and nostalgia, for the one I was leaving behind. Traveling back to Maine for a short time allowed me to create this somewhat spontaneous image of my sister, giving me the opportunity to express this change in the best way I knew how.”

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See more photos from the Sony World Photography Awards below, and check back for updates as the event unfolds.

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The Honorary Judging Committee for professional categories: 

Documentary Jury
Dominique Green (Chair), Consultant (UK)
Emma Lynch, Picture Editor, BBC Global News website (UK)
Fiona Rogers, Global Business Development Manager, Magnum Photos (UK) Julien Jourdes, Co-Founder & Coo, Blink.la (US)

Art Jury
Sue Steward (Chair), Writer and Photography Curator (UK)
Karen Knorr, Photographer and Professor University for the Creative Arts (US/UK)
Jean-Jacques, Naudet Editorial Director, L’Oeil de la Photographie (France)
Mariko Takeuchi, Photography Critic, Curator and Associate Professor of Kyoto University of Art and Design (Japan)

Open competition
Presiding over the selection of the best single image across ten categories was:
Jael Marschner (Chair), Former picture editor Time Out London / Sunday Times Travel (UK)

Student Focus
Uncovering emerging photographic talent from over 400 educational institutions worldwide were: Simon Bainbridge, Editor, British Journal of Photography (UK) Mark Murrmann, Photo Editor, Mother Jones (US)
Matt Tucker, Picture Editor, BuzzFeedUK (UK)