Sony Photography Awards 2023: Photographer’s tribute to slain journalist claims top prize

Winford Hunter

Written by Oscar Holland, CNN

A photographer’s moving tribute to a friend killed in the 2011 Libyan Civil War has earned him the top prize at the prestigious Sony World Photography Awards, organizers announced Thursday.

Edgar Martins was named Photographer of the Year 2023 for his series “Our War,” a collection of portraits featuring Libyan subjects who resembled (or reminded him of) the late Anton Hammerl, a photojournalist shot while covering the conflict.

In a statement, Martins said receiving the $25,000 prize was “very humbling.” He described it as “quite an emotional experience because I get to honor my friend on a world stage and bring attention to the family’s plight to find his remains.”

“Our War” came about after the Portuguese photographer’s attempts to recover his friend’s body led him to Libya with the help of a smuggler. Instability in the country made his search unfeasible, so Martins instead decided to capture portraits of people who had been involved in the war.

A portrait from Edgar Martins' winning series "Our War."

A portrait from Edgar Martins’ winning series “Our War.” Credit: Edgar Martins

His subjects were selected because they either physically looked like Hammerl, who was killed by troops loyal to former dictator Moammar Gadhafi, or because they “had similar ideas and beliefs, or reminded Martins of him at different stages of their friendship,” according to a press release from the awards’ organizers, the World Photography Organisation.

The resulting images span former fighters and civilians from both sides of the eight-month conflict that saw Gadhafi overthrown by anti-government rebels.

In a statement, prize chair Mike Trow described the project as a “powerful, personal set of portraits,” adding: “(Martins’) work highlights the lengths photographers will go to tell a story and create meaning; each image giving a sense of the journey Anton took without ever being explicit about how his life ended.”

Martins was selected from the winners of the annual awards’ 10 professional categories, which span topics from sport and landscape to the environment. Now in its 16th year, the awards attracted more than 415,000 entries in 2023, with over 180,000 of them eligible for professional categories. Organizers said this year’s competition had seen the highest number of entries in its history.

Winners of other professional categories included Chinese photographer Fan Li, recognized for his images of an abandoned cement factory; the UK’s Hugh Kinsella Cunningham, who documented the work of women’s rights activists in the Democratic Republic of Congo; and US photographer Al Bello, for his series on the first female baseball player to play in an all-male professional league.

Organizers also announced the winners of several other prizes Thursday, with photographers in the student and youth competitions among those honored. An inaugural Sustainability Prize, meanwhile, recognized the work of environmental photographer Alessandro Cinque.

Scroll through the gallery above to see a selection of images from the winners of 2023’s Sony World Photography Awards. An accompanying exhibition is showing at London’s Somerset House until May 1, 2023.
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