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AWARDS 2019 CURATOR INTERVIEW: Jillian Edelstein

7 December 2018

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Whilst the Awards 2019 call for entries are open we are running a series of interviews with our Awards Curators to give you an insight into their roles and most importantly what they feel makes for an award winning image. First up is Photographer and Documentary Film Maker Jillian Edelstein who is the curator of the Photojournalism category.

Jillian NT

What inspired you to get into photography?

I would say that growing up under the repressive Apartheid regime in South Africa informed the way I saw the world - so the beginning was understanding that I had a powerful visual response to things. And tangentially to that, discovering the magic of the dark room. It began at the University of Cape Town, where I was a student studying social sciences. It began with the work I was doing in the townships, and also the fact that my background was very much ingrained in the political apartheid landscape. Which is why I think that photography suited me so well: it was a way in which I could, in some way, make sense of what I saw and it allowed me to make some sort of a statement.

The first photographs I ever took that I think had any relevance were taken at the (illegal) Crossroads shanty town settlement when all the residents were under the threat of eviction - bulldozers were being used to demolish the shacks. A lot of dramatic things were happening in the protests by the shack dwellers and the few activists visiting the site of destruction. That's literally when I put the first important roll of film through my camera. The day ended with me being taken away in a police van. 

I knew soon after that I wanted to be a photographer, but it took a while to get to that point. At that time, I knew very little about photography worldwide. I was aware of the South African photo-journalist David Goldblatt and his work with migrant workers in the gold mines, and I also remember finding a magazine featuring work by Mary Ellen Mark [the American documentary photographer] and Annie Leibovitz's Rolling Stone portraits. I thought I would love to do that too !


You will have seen many changes in the photographic industry. What do you feel is photography’s role today?

Same as it ever was - to inform, to use visual language in as emphatic and inventive a way as possible to inform and to illuminate for those who don’t have the privilege of seeing the stories that photo journalists are, ideally, commissioned to tell -  and, if not, are driven themselves to explore.


Photojournalism is extremely powerful in its ability to tell a story. Is there any one particular image / story that has portrayed this power to you?

I judged the World Press Awards in Amsterdam a few years ago. As in any year there were many catastrophic events in 2013 - Rana Plaza garment factory that collapsed killing 1,135 people, the typhoon in Phiippines , Mandela’s passing.  But.. a little covered story still stays with me..young boys in - I think it was Iraq or Afghanistan-  who were forced into sex slavery. The images showed them dressed up as girls and performing dances, favours and sex for older men.

Also a daily life story about murdered victims on a sugar plantation in San Salvador, El Salvador - the photographer Fred Ramos produced still life images of the victims clothes. It was powerful and moving.


As curator of our Photojournalism category of the Photography Awards what in your opinion makes for an award winning image? 

What would your advice be to our members entering this category. Telling the story with integrity and in a way that surprises the viewer - a new take on something we’re used to seeing.


Which photojournalists do you admire? 

SO MANY… name but a few Dorothea Lange, Lee Miller, Eve Arnold, Don McCullin, Joseph Koudelka, I admired David Goldblatt and Tim Hetherington’s work Edward Burtynsky, Stephanie Sinclair, Vanessa Winship, Alec Soth, Anastasia Taylor-Lind, Gideon Mendel, Brent Stirton, Newsha Tavakolian.

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