Plenty To “Leica” At The Annual Photography Awards By Ramy Salameh

The Leica Oskar Barnack Awards 2019 (LOBA), now in its 39th year, is a photographic competition and ceremony attracting entrants from across the globe, shining a light on new talent, exquisite craftsmanship and one of the world’s most renowned camera companies. The awards ceremony took place in Berlin, a city which this year celebrates the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a momentous moment much chronicled through photo-journalism. Today, Berlin is known as a place of freedom, opportunity and individuality, and these factors made it the ideal platform to host LOBA.

There are some photographs that transcend age and epoch; a momentary blink of the shutter produces an image which continues to reverberate and inspire viewers to this day. Think in terms of the iconic ‘‘Kiss’’ between a US sailor and nurse on V-J Day in Times Square, New York (1945, Alfred Eisenstaedt) or Thomas Hoepker’s 1966 photograph of Mohammad Ali glaring into the lens with fist filling the frame or the heart-rending moment ‘‘Napalm Girl’’ formed the central figure of a photo depicting children fleeing from a Napalm bomb during the Vietnam War (AP photographer Nick Ut, June 8, 1972).

One thing all these images have in common is that they were taken with a Leica camera; a brand and product reflecting quality craftsmanship and engineering in the photographic arena, which now stretches back more than 100 years. Ever since Oskar Barnack produced the very first Leitz camera in 1914, which gave birth to 35mm photography, the company has been fine tuning, innovating and developing their ranges of cameras.

The LOBA finalists’ work is currently displayed upon the walls of the Neue Schule Fur Fotografie Gallery in Berlin, which allowed guests to peruse the photos ahead of the awards ceremony. Every image would certainly have resonated with the late Oskar Barnack, whose earliest known photographs, using the Ur-Leica prototype camera, showed an early talent and interest in photo-journalism by capturing stirring and pertinent images, such as ‘‘Flood of Wetzlar’’ in 1920.

The value of any Leica camera makes it a luxury product; however, the company makes sure that new generations of photographers, both amateur and professional, have the ability to engage with their products in some way and understand the historical lineage of the brand.

This year’s ceremony continues that legacy and took place at St. Elisabeth’s Church, now used as a spectacular venue in the heart of Berlin, with a sister venue – Villa Elisabeth – next door, both sitting within the verdant Church Park in the district of Mitte.

Out of the twelve finalists, sourced from over 2,300 entrants in 99 countries, the overall winner was the American photographer Mustafah Abdulaziz, with a series of images centred around water as a universal theme. The project took the photographer on an 8-year worldwide journey, to understand how this essential resource is perceived on different continents and how this relationship shapes their link to the broader environment.

Nanna Heitmann, pictured above, took home the Newcomer Award 2019 for her series titled ‘‘Hiding from Baba Yaga.’’ Again, the project took the photographer on journey along part of the Yenisei River, one of the longest rivers in the world, where she captured the lives of people she met along the way in a sensitive and intimate way.

Story-telling and immersive experiences are now the cornerstone of the luxury sector and Leica achieves this through myriad events and the Leica Akademie, which in the UK can be found at their flagship London store on Duke Street, in Mayfair, offering a gallery and workshops hosted by leading photographers.

Jason Heward, Leica UK Managing Director, explains, “For more than a century, Leica has been inspiring creativity and helping people to become photographers. Our stores are destinations where we can connect on a deep experiential level through our galleries and our Akademie. You will come to the store to see great photography, or attend a workshop to discover how to take beautiful images. This is what Leica does and has always done. Leica is photography.”

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