The World Photography Organisation has chosen South Korea’s KyeongJun Yang as the winner of the fifth annual ZEISS Photography Award.
Responding to the brief Seeing Beyond: Discoveries, Yang won for his series Metamorphosis, exploring the immigrant experience.
The 27-year-old Yang, from Jinhae, South Korea, is currently a senior studying journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.
For this year’s brief, photographers were asked to submit a series of works focused on the theme of discoveries that transform our everyday lives. These could range from personal revelations to scientific and technological breakthroughs or ideas that led to social change.
In Metamorphosis, Yang presents a series of black & white images comprising portraits and still life each depicting or representative of Julie Chen, a young woman who emigrated to the USA from Mainland China at the age of 12 following her parent’s separation.
Each photograph is paired with Chen’s writings and quoted dialogue related to her experiences as an immigrant, feelings of loneliness and conflicted sense of identity.
For Yang, Chen’s experiences strongly link to his feelings of isolation and strangeness while also echoing those of many others.
“Winning this award still feels like a dream. I am glad not only because I’ve won, but also because now I know I’m not the only person who likes my images. I’m happy my photographs have been enjoyed by others, somehow they don’t seem as lonely anymore,” Yang said.
Photo editor and judge Max Ferguson also highly praised the winning work.
“The use of subtle, personal images of the subject (Julie Chen) lets us get a glimpse into the life of a young Chinese American woman. The closeness and the quietness of the images is what allows us to see and think more about what is going on here. For me, this work stood out from the other submissions we judged as it was clear that although these were documentary photographs, there was a conceptual underpinning to them which opened up more questions than answers and made for a more engaging reading of the work.”
In an interview with the World Photography Organisation’s Digital content editor Anna Evans, Yang said that as an international student in the US, he can understand the same sense of feeling in which his photos with Julie resonate with so many people.
“I empathize with her situation. The feelings of isolation and loneliness are always with me. I think everyone can relate to these feelings, helping the series to feel very personal and universal simultaneously,” he said.
As the 2020 winner, Yang receives €12,000 worth of ZEISS lenses of his choice and €3,000 to cover costs for a photography project.