14 April 2020

Noelle Mason claims the PHmuseum 2020 Photography Grant 1st Prize

14 April 2020 - Written by PhMuseum

Hear from our independent panel of expert judges as they offer in-depth commentary on the reasons why her work, and that of the other grantees, was awarded this year.

Backscatter Blueprint (La Maleta), Cyanotype on Watercolor Paper © Noelle Mason

An independent jury comprised of Anna-Kaisa Rastenberger (Professor at University of Arts Helsinki), Azu Nwagbogu (Director AAF and Lagos Photo), Roderick Van Der Lee (Fromer Photo London Director), and Tanya Habjoqua (Photographer at NOOR Agency) has awarded the £6,000 PHmuseum 2020 Photography Grant 1stprize to Noelle Mason for her series X-Ray Vision vs. Invisibility, a project that reflects about the phenomenological effects of vision technologies on the perception of undocumented immigrants.

By appropriating images collected from border patrol, vigilantes, commercial security websites, and other sources into hand-made objects, Noelle looks to challenge the immediacy in which they were originally produced and then give them space to be viewed as objects of contemplation outside of their initial dehumanising context. Judge Tanya Habjouqa explains the judges’ choice: “Noelle’s work impressed the jurors, particularly relevant during this worldwide crisis that has fundamentally changed the way documentary photography can be conducted in movement and access. The US administration’s legislation and treatment of migrants and their detention remains one of the most urgent political issues. Her work transcends the traditional sphere of access, ironically utilising the invasive technology of US Border Patrol and commercial security sites and subverting it into a critique. I applaud efforts that circumvent systems of control to find a way to bring issues to light. When access is limited, due to state or commercial institutions, prisons, because of war, etc…or when a traditional visual approach could endanger those whose story you are telling, it is time to find creative means around this. More intellectual, collaborative, and creative approaches. Her work does just that. Her image “Backscatter Blueprint (La Maleta)”, an x-ray of a human body curled into a fetal position in a closed suitcase, is gut wrenching. Her visual treatment and interventions turn work that could be clinical—x-rays—into an intimate commentary on the human condition and where we are as a society today.”

From When I Feel Down I Take A Train To The Happy Valley © Pierfrancesco Celada

The £3,000 2nd Prize was claimed by Pierfrancesco Celada’s When I Feel Down I Take A Train To The Happy Valley, a documentary-based series that examines Hong Kong’s complex sense of belonging. “Piefrancesco has been taking his camera to the streets of Hong Kong since 2014 to photograph the cityscape during a pivotal and dynamic time,” explains Judge Roderick van der Lee. “Documenting the Umbrella Revolution, Celada captures almost surreal scenes with quiet grace. The viewer is granted access to a curious view of humanity through the perspective of the eternal and silent city itself. This semi-detached, but poetic perspective is complemented in this series by the merits of the photographer's strong visual signature and compositions. The marriage of conceptual and technical strengths make the work not just appealing, but also an important document of a crucial dynamic in the city's history."

Fred Ramos was awarded the £3,000 3rd Prize with The Dark Triangle, a stark visual essay that illuminates some of the main factors that are driving migration from Central America. “Migration is one of the most crucial topics of our time, affecting hundreds of millions of people all over the world” asserts judge Anna-Kaisa Rastenberger. “Fred Ramos photographs one of the world's largest migration streams through El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, where hundreds of thousands of people flee from violence, corruption, natural disasters caused by climate change and poverty. Because of the American immigration policy, asylum seekers are now stuck in Mexico, where they are targets to cartels violence and blackmail. Unlike most of the photographers dealing with migration, Ramos approaches migration from a point of view of an involved: he lives among the phenomenon. His standpoint leads to his way of seeing; he is bearing witness, not making an issue of what he sees. His laconic style and technique vibrate between artistic and journalistic. He does not emphasize or trickle with the camera to make stories he witnesses interesting. His stories are fundamental, and how Ramos leads the spectators through the incidents is purely humane. Ramos looks at the migration without condemnation nor dramatization. His subjects are human beings represented with respect and dignity.”

Relatives and friends of Sgt. Pablo Cándido Vega at the cemetery in Panchimalco, El Salvador, in April 2015 © Fred Ramos

Jordan Putt (Field Book), Mary Turner (Dispossessed), Vincent Desailly (The Trap), Francesco Anselmi (Borderlands), Shadman Shahid (No Quarter), and Billy H.C. Kwok (Last Letters: A Photographic Investigation of Taiwan White Terror) were all granted Honorable Mentions.

The New Generation Prize – awarded to a photographer under 30 years of age – went to David Nana Opoku Ansah for his work Area Boys & Brotherhood. Judge Azu Nwagbogu offers the reasoning behind the jury’s decision: “We were impressed with the consistency and visual language adopted by the young 24-year old Ghanaian photographer David Nana Opoku Ansah. His visual references whilst obvious do not suffocate his creativity. His adoption of critical design aesthetics with objects of virtue staged within his portraits adds a layer of wistfulness and nostalgia to the coming of age narrative in his native country. The jurors are confident that the is a photographer to watch for the future.” David wins a monetary prize of £2,000 to help support his future projects and a free, four-hour consultation with a mentor of her choice from the PHmuseum Online Education Program.

From Area Boys & Brotherhood © David Nana Opoku Ansah

Silvia Rosi (Encounter), Yufan Lu (Make Me Beautiful), and Bowei Yang (Soft Thorn) each received a New Generation Prize Honorable Mention.

All 13 of these works will feature in projections at the next editions of Cortona On The Move (Italy), Lagos Photo Festival (Nigeria), Verzasca Photo (Switzerland), and Jakarta International Photo Festival (Indonesia).

Away from the monetary prizes, Jacob Balzani Lööv’s project /ustica/ was granted a solo exhibition at PhEST, set to take place in Monopoli, Italy in September. The curatorial team that assigned the prize says of the work: "Can a fact that happened in a place change the perception of that place forever? Yes. Can a fact that did not happen in a place forever affect its perception? It is rarer but this also happens, and it happened in Ustica. In the era of post-truth, photography can be an extraordinary remedy and become an instrument of reconciliation with perceived reality. /ustica/ manages to be on the eve of the fortieth anniversary of the massacre. Collecting and combining the scattered fragments of that semantic explosion with wisdom and simplicity, bringing image and word back to the real."

Jean-Marc Caimi and Valentina Piccinni won a solo exhibition plus book presentation at PHmuseum Lab with their series Güle Güle. PHmuseum director Giuseppe Oliverio and PHmuseum curator Rocco Venezia explain their choice: “After portraying the changing realities of cities like Naples and Rome, the photography duo Caimi & Piccinni’s new series Güle Güle focuses on the Eurasian metropolis of Istanbul. The tensions, clashes, and energy of the Turkish capital’s intense development are irradiated by the harsh use of flash, which enlightens most of the profound sociopolitical contradictions. The photographers’ sense of humor and allegory paired with cinematic editing caught our attention as it is creating a new code for reading this process of transformation undertaken by the city and its inhabitants. A schizophrenic yet intimate journey into a metropolis that hides many of the conflicts and beauty of the human existence.”

From Güle Güle © Jean-Marc Caimi and Valentina Piccinni

Silvia Rosi (Encounter) was awarded a solo exhibition at Getxophoto, the international Photography Festival held in Getxo, Basque Country under the curatorship of Jon Uriarte.

In the other prizes on offer this year, Tasneem Alsultan (Saudi Tales of Love), Tsz Yeung Tsang (Language of the Unheard), and Marco Garro (The Gold We inherited, the Gold of Our Dreams) all won features on World Press Photo’s online publication Witness; and Florence Goupil (Don Benito Qori-Huaman), Jono Terry (You Still Owe Him A Boat), and Aleksandra Zaborowska (Eclipse) were each awarded a 60-minute online portfolio review as part of the PHmuseum’s Education Program.

We wish to send our best congratulations to all the photographers who presented their work to the PHmuseum 2020 Photography Grant. In addition to the prizes, we’ll abe featuring many of the submissions on the various curated sections of our platform throughout the next few months. Stay tuned!


The PHmuseum Photography Grant has established itself as a leading prize in the industry over the past years, renowned for celebrating the importance of compelling visual storytelling and launching the careers of the younger generation through monetary prizes and various opportunities across international festivals and online media. Previous winners include Diana Markosian, Max Pinckers, Alejandro Chaskielberg, Liza Ambrossio, Jacob Aue Sobol, Clémentine Schneidermann, and Nikita Teryoshin. See all the results of this edition at

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