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Look Inside The Leica Oskar Barnack Award 2017

Luxury London joined Leica Camera AG in Berlin to meet the winners of the Leica Oskar Barnack Awards 2017

The gallery bustled as the work of 12 proud artists from around the world adorned the walls, and at least every other person carried a Leica Camera like a badge of honour. We were in Berlin to attend the Leica Oskar Barnack Award (LOBA) exhibition and ceremony.

Photographers, gallerists, art directors, press and bloggers from all corners of the globe had come together in mutual admiration for Leica’s inimitable cameras and the art of photography.

The exhibition showcased 12 projects shortlisted by an international jury appointed by Leica. Subjects varied, from powerful images of Kurdish fighters in war-torn Mosul to urban, double-exposure shots on the streets of London, Hong Kong and Tokyo.

All finalists’ entries caught the attention of the five-strong LOBA jury, but two submissions stood out.

Norwegian Terje Abusdal took the main prize by impressing the judges with his series of photographs, Slash & Burn, of a remote community of Forest Finns.

Traditionally Forest Finns were slash-and-burn farmers so Abusdal used fire and smoke to brand the pictures with this agricultural practice of the past. The result is a mystical, ethereal collection of images that question what it means to be a Forest Finn today.

When asked where the idea came from, Abusdal admitted that he doesn’t know, but that a dowsing rod may have the answer: “I photographed the Norwegian dowsing association last year and one guy asked me the same question: ‘why are you interested in this?’ I couldn’t give him an answer so he turned to his dowsing rod, then he turned to me again, and he asked his rod, ‘was [Terje Abusdal] a Forrest Finn?’ The rod said ‘yes, I was a Forest Finn six generations ago.’ So perhaps, deep down, that’s where it comes from.”

Abusdal spent three-and-a-half years capturing the images for Slash & Burn, staying in a safari tent above his car throughout summer, and taking shelter in a colleague’s house during the “exceptionally cold” winters. He still has one or two shots in mind that he would like to return to take.

As the winner of the main category, Abusdal received a €25,000 cash prize and Leica M-system equipment (a camera and a lens) valued at €10,000 during the formal gala event.

The other winner of the night was Ukrainian photographer Sergey Melnitchenko, who took home the Newcomer Award for up-and-coming photographers up to the age of 25. His project, Behind the Scenes, is a gritty exposé backstage at a Chinese nightclub.  

Melnitchenko worked as a dancer in a club in China and he saw an opportunity to document the experience, without security catching him with his camera. 

Having previously worked with people, Melnitchenko changed his style in China. Starting with street photography, he began to experiment with conceptual art photography such as Behind the Scenes. “This project is the first a kind because it unusual for me, it’s like a documentary mixed with conceptual art, reportage,” he said.

When asked if he has any advice for budding photographers, Melnitchenko said, “Don’t be afraid to enter your photos in different contests. You need to write to galleries – I have done so for eight years, writing to galleries, magazines, making new contacts because, if it’s not me, no one else will do that for me.”

Melnitchenko’s Newcomer prize was €10,000 and a Leica M camera and lens. “I don’t believe it,” he said. “It’s the best thing that ever happened in my life.”

Scroll through our gallery below to see a selection of photos from all LOBA 2017 finalists. The ten finalists were congratulated with a €2,500 cash prize and their work will continue to be exhibited at the Neue Schule für Fotografie in Berlin until 14 October 2017.