08 June 2021

PHmuseum Mobile Photography Prize Behind the Picture Vol.1

08 June 2021 - Written by PhMuseum

Last year's awardees tell us the stories behind the images submitted to the PHmuseum Mobile Photography Prize, the new edition of which is currently open for submissions. In this first article, you can read those of Alessandro Gaja, Elena Haliczer, Ali Jahan Ara, and Esteban Kuriel.

From PHmuseum's Book + Exhibition INSIDE © Alessandro Gaja

Alessandro Gaja is an Italian photographer based in Milan, one of the first cities severely hit by the first wave of the pandemic. His image was awarded the Mobile Photo Of The Year 1st Prize. His black and white image is part of a photographic series that Gaja started during the first lockdown. "Between 22 March and 4 May 2020 I was forced at home in Milano, Italy, in my apartment on the ninth floor - he comments. After few days of lockdown, I started observing the small and haggard human figures of my neighbours with their daily rituals, stubbornly torn from the isolation of a social distance necessary but unnatural: I began to think about how to get closer to them as much as possible, so I built a kind of "microscope" putting my iPhone next to a small binocular that I found in my house. This is a picture of a group of people that caught my attention: during those days they gathered almost daily at lunch in the courtyard. A nice sign of conviviality and carefree despite the situation".

From PHmuseum's Book + Exhibition INSIDE © Elena Haliczer

Mobile Photo Of The Year 3rd Prize Elena Haliczer spent a lot of time with his father during the first wave of the pandemic and this closeness allowed her to create Dad's Quest, a project where she explores their shared interest in VR. "We acquired an Oculus Quest - says Elena - and I screened immersive media for us that would be of interest but not physically challenging for my father to experience. I also documented every session using my mobile phone as well as a tablet for video. In this particular session, my dad was experiencing the Apollo 11 launch and the Moon landing. It was a great session because he spent a lot of it exclaiming in excitement over the experience, but also reflecting on watching the original flight in Trafalgar Square with thousands of other people. I thought the image captured the moment of the pandemic on the one hand where everyone was trying to find some way of dealing with isolation or escaping from it. On the other hand, it captured the moment my dad re-experienced our escape from the Earth, this time in a totally immersive way that had him talking for days about it afterward".

From PHmuseum's Book INSIDE + Feature on BuzzFeed News © Ali Jahan Ara

What's interesting is seeing the many ways in which photographers have somehow responded to this difficult year by creating images in which you can really grasp this sense and need for a new dimension in which one can dream in and exist within. For Iranian photographer Ali Jahanara, being at home turned into an excuse to get closer with her sister. "I had the opportunity to put my photography ideas into action at home - says Ali recalling how he gave life to this image. My sister and I were in a bedroom, and I used to take different photos with the objects inside the room every day. At sunrise, natural sunlight miraculously entered the room through the window, and I was able to use it to reproduce several ideas. One of the best resulted in this image".

From PHmuseum's Book + Exhibition INSIDE © Esteban Kuriel

Esteban Kuriel is a photographer from Bogotá, Colombia. Themes in his work include self-portraiture, performance, commodity culture, as well as the body in relationships with everyday objects. During the first wave of the pandemic, Kuriel had even more time to push his passion. and this images a good example. "I constantly take pictures of myself - he says. They prove that my body is an image, that I have a physical presence, and that I am alive". "When I took this image, it was a sunrise in New York City. I was having coffee in the kitchen, distracted about the day that was going to happen, but then I was aware of the light. I don't have curtains but a filter that reflects a pink-orange light, and I was surprised about how it transformed my skin. I grabbed an empty glass and tried to play with it in an attempt to distort my own image. Not thinking too much but just allowing myself to play for a couple of minutes left from that sunrise. A few weeks later, I thought about that moment, and I was almost sure it was a dream. I found the picture and then had the sense that everything was rightly odd with the world".

Smartphones and mobile devices often offer the chance to interprete a moment or share your own feelings. Regardless if you are a professional photographer or simply have a passion for taking images, the Mobile Photography Prize is meant to gather together photographs that could help us understand our society and how mobile devices are influencing the way we see to world. To join the current edition, apply at


This content is part of a series of articles that looks back at the last edition of the Mobile Photography Prize and what it meant for the photographers involved. To join the conversation and become an active part of our research project on the phenomenon, learn more and apply here.

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