How to elevate the mundane into the mesmerising with local photography

While our Localised Perspectives brief has closed, the EyeEm marketplace remains open and waiting to sell your beautiful local photography for you. Kate Sedwell is the Co-Director of the BarTur Photo Award and has seen thousands - perhaps even hundreds of thousands, of local photography images. We grabbed some time with her to ask what stands out in a crowded marketplace, and how an image can really make an impact.

Image by Maryam Ashrafi

Hi Kate! We’ve had a bit of a wild few years, to say the vert least. Have you seen photography in the past two years that allowed you to change your understanding or perspective of a place? 

What we have seen in submissions to the BarTur Photo Award over the last 2 years is more photographers documenting their everyday lives, where they live and who they live with. This has definitely shifted my perspective about places and the value of local photographers documenting the human experience of those living there. I would say that before the Pandemic it was easy to give work to someone you trusted, someone who could jump on a plane and create something that you knew you would love in the timescale you needed. What the pandemic has done is force people to work with new and unknown photographers - which is always stressful - and trust those photographers to take their own perspective on the work they create. So I think the pandemic has really empowered local photographers. The restriction on travelling has meant that images we are now seeing from around the world have been taken by those living there and I think that this has enabled regional photographers to really have a platform to show an intimate side of a place. 

The BarTur Photo Award is all about challenging the way that we see the world. The people who are struggling, the places that are changing, the action that we must take to address some of the most pressing issues of our time. And so for me, not that it is a new concept, but one that has been confirmed in my mind, to do this we need photographers that know these problems well, who live and cope with them and ultimately have the ideas around what we need to do to make a real impact.

Image by Shaown Choudry

When generating awards for photojournalism, there is an understanding that we are striving to capture photography that feels local, authentic and true to the current situation. How do you judge how a photographer captures authenticity

If we look at the winners over the last two years, the authenticity has come from the local human story that has been captured. It goes back to this notion about being a tourist or a local. With the shift to people being forced by COVID 19 to document their everyday, the images and stories have become so very intimate. The photographers know these people who are in their images, it's not a stranger on the street, it is their family, their neighbour, or people they have built a long term relationship with. It's like when you travel for business and when you travel for pleasure, in my experience you get the most authentic experience when you are working. You are constantly meeting and talking to local people, they take you to places that you will never see as a tourist, they introduce you to their friends and even family - people who have amazing stories that you would never hear. And so this intimate experience, I think, is visible in the pictures that have been selected as our winners. 

As a BarTur Photo Award Judge you don’t get to know who the photographer is, where they come from, what their back story is. We judge with only having the image, the title of the work, and a short description (250 words) about the work. So often I look at the image first, then I read the description. For me, you can tell if a photographer knows their subjects. 

For me, authenticity is the time, the courage and the commitment that a photographer takes to make work that is thoughtful, considered and intimate. This, in my opinion, comes from having or building long term relationships with the people whose stories the photographer shares.

Image by Tamara Reynolds

What do you think is effective in capturing local events? Are there details that represent a good shot? 

One of the reasons that I love looking at all the images submitted to the BarTur Photo Award is that I am constantly being challenged, questioned, and asked to think differently. As I click on the ‘next submission’ button I am excited to see what story I am going to uncover, even if it's upsetting, because it informs me of people’s lived and living experiences around the world, and gives me ideas on how I can change or act to help. Amongst the thousands of images I look at every year, for me, it's always the human stories that I like the best. So, in my opinion, the story is the starting block for a way of effectively capturing local events. What is the story, why is it important (or is it important), who are you trying to reach and what are you trying to get them to do. 

Life is not just one moment in time, one emotion or one event, and so the work that often captures my attention is the range of images within a series that reflects the story. Of course there are those single images that are so valuable in telling the story of that moment, but I like work that enables me to understand an event and asks me to think about it. I like to see the highs and lows, which you often get with any human story, even the most upsetting ones. 

Image by Enda Burke

What makes a photograph evolve from showcasing the mundane to truly telling a story? 

Sometimes the mundane is interesting, I actually quite like the mundane. My life was very mundane during the pandemic and so I really liked the work that was submitted from the two competitions that we ran in 2020 around how people were dealing with COVID19 and its wide ranging impact. The work was fantastic and such a range of perspectives on the mundane, but also the unprecedented. 

Click here to see more examples of work that has stayed with Kate, and to read about what she loves about them.