This Photo Contest Puts Gen Z Behind the Camera

The World Photography Organization announced 20 finalists for the youth and student categories of its annual competition, the Sony World Photography Awards. This year’s shortlisted projects range from intimate snapshots of communities around the world and experimental self-portraits to striking images of nature and staged recreations of memories.

Eligible students must be enrolled in a university, and youth applicants must be aged 19 or younger. This year’s student competition, judged by British Journal of Photography Deputy Editor Ravi Ghosh, required entrants to submit a five to 10-photograph series reflecting on the concept of “home.” The shortlisted photographers represent eight countries and their work showcases a wide variety of lived experiences, from Makaziwe Radebe’s scenes of his neighbors in the Emdeni neighborhood of Soweto, South Africa to Yufei Ma’s portrayals of daily life in his family’s community in China. 

Ma, a senior in the undergraduate photography program at New York’s School of Visual Arts, depicts drying laundry in each of his eight photographs, all of which exclude human subjects. Hanging bed sheets and clothing represent colorful respites from city life and physical reminders of the people whose lives play out on the streets below.

Makaziwe Radebe’s Ihubo Ikhaya (A hymn, a home) (2023) shows the tight-knit Soweto community he grew up in. (© Makaziwe Radebe, South Africa, Shortlist, Student Competition, Sony World Photography Awards 2024)

Kayin Luys, a photography Master’s student at the LUCA School of Arts in Brussels submitted Don’t Trust Pretty Girls (2023), a series of images that probe his in-laws’ family lore. For each shot, Luys recreates a story or memory that his newfound family has told him. In one particularly striking image, Luys’s partner Nata points a gun toward a target stationed behind the viewer. Luys stands beside her in the forest setting. The couple share the same determined stare, appearing casual and unbothered — they even rest their hand in their pockets — but a closer examination of Luys’s face reveals a quiet anxiety.

Luys told Hyperallergic that he always keeps the referenced stories to himself, noting that he is “convinced that viewers look at photos with their own baggage.”

“I leave room for the viewer to wonder,” Luys continued. “And reflect on what roles we play within a family.”

The competition’s youth finalists, selected by Lenzburg Foto Festival Curator Daniel Blochwitz, represent a similarly international set of voices. Shayna Cuenca, 15, earned her spot on the shortlist with an altered self-portrait she crafted by cutting a photograph into rectangles, taping the segments to teabags, then arranging the new pieces back into the portrait’s original shape. Cuenca’s fragmented visage stares at the viewer through a tangle of tea bag strings, which the young photographer has attached to create a series of curved lines that offer a unifying contrast to the angular patchwork below.

Afiq Sharkawi, an 18-year-old in Malaysia, captured a photograph of a craftsman creating a keris, a traditional iron dagger. Other youth finalists depicted the natural world. Zy Grei Zander M. Esperanza, a 16-year-old from the Philippines, portrayed a flock of doves in flight, and 18-year-old Chengchen Wang caught the snowy Himalayan summit of Yala Mountain.

The winner from each category, to be announced on April 18, will receive Sony digital imaging equipment, and their work will be displayed as part of the Sony World Photography Award exhibition at Somerset House in London.

Shayna Cuenca, 15, crafted her self portrait with tea bags. (© Shayna Cuenca, United States, Shortlist, Youth Competition, Sony World Photography Awards 2024)

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