Lonely portraits by a young South Korean photographer intent on self-discovery won success at Angkor Photo Festival at the weekend as Truth Leem’s collection Island was crowned the winner of the Workshops 2012 Photo Prize.
A seven-strong independent jury took three hours to choose a winning collection and eventually settled on 27-year-old Leem’s Island, which features solitary portrait shots in different locations with a peaceful mood.
A total of 36 participants each submitted a set of about 20 photographs taken over the course of the week, guided by professional photographer tutors. They edited the images together into a sequence set to music.
Leem’s win was announced at Saturday night’s closing party at FCC Angkor.
Mauro Bedoni, photo editor of Colors magazine and one of the judges of the award, said that Leem was chosen based on her “awareness of the medium of photography and how to express herself in the photos”.
“I saw a really conscious photographer, with a lot of herself in the photos,” he said.
Fellow juror, photographer Andrea Star Reese, added: “I think she took more of a risk with her work, and that impacts on all of us. It was a very hard choice but her individual expression, her skill, all pushed her ahead of the others.
“There are so many good photographers, so many good photographs and it’s somebody who finds a way to stand out, to grab our attention, and keeps us coming back to them.”
Leem said she was surprised to have won the award, which comprised a Canon camera and the inaugural Hope Françoise Demulder Award: a cash prize of 2000 euros.
Having studied photojournalism in the United States before working for Reuters in Seoul as a stringer, Leem said she used the workshop as a personal means to “find herself” in the photographs.
“While I was working for the newswire company I feel like I lost something, that’s why I came here. On the first day of the workshop my tutor asked me what photography means to my life. I couldn’t answer, so he told me I should find myself before taking pictures. So for the first time I was thinking of myself rather than thinking of taking pictures.”
She said she was used to hiding behind the camera, but the competition prompted her to use her instinct and take pictures “from the soul”.
“I was afraid of having a deep relationship with people. I was always a bit behind, staying back. So now I found whenever I took a picture I captured the moment; people standing alone or even standing together. I found some distance, separation, isolation between people.”
She said the title Island reflects how she sees people – as living on their own private spheres. She also took inspiration from her time spent studying in America, she said. “When I was studying in the States sometimes I felt so isolated and even after graduation I went to Korea and for me, Korea is not my hometown any more. I didn’t find myself. So this workshop has healed me a lot; during the last five days I was in the process of healing myself through the photography. So I found myself in between people: I don’t have my own island, I am just floating. “
Leem said she has no plans yet as to how to spend the grant money but says she will put it towards future photography projects.