Based on the theme of ‘international friendship’, ROSL’s Photography Competition is back and bigger than ever! Visual Arts Coordinator Robin Footitt reveals the three main prizewinners and the story behind each image

ROSL’s biennial open submission photography competition has gone from strength to strength since launching in 2019, doubling in size with over 500 entries from 40 countries. Our six international industry judges; Sunil Gupta, Rakesh Mohindra, Germaine Walker (all London), Farah Mahbub (Pakistan), Veerle Poupeye (Jamaica) and Sarker Protick (Bangladesh) assessed the plethora of quality submissions taken over the past year in preparation for shortlisted exhibition entries to be displayed at Over-Seas House, London, on view from 9 December 2021 until 6 February 2022.

Camera category WINNER

Nyauli, 2021

Tirtha Lawati
The series of lockdowns experienced throughout 2020 and early 2021 inspired Tirtha Lawati’s ongoing project Nyauli. Named after the Great Barbet, a bird native to Nepal whose song, according to folklore, is that of a lost lover, reflects Lawati’s own experience of growing up in the UK, born in Hangsari, Panchthar, Nepal. His nieces have become muses in between home schooling and are of a similar age to when he and his sister first arrived in the country.

Nyauli is inspired by Tirtha’s own childhood fascination with the dragonflies in Nepal, translating his observations of its whirring wings across a generation to Warwickshire – constructing a mise-en-scène with his nieces’ hair plaited in a traditional red accessory worn by Nepali women (lacha) and decorated with a combination of fresh garden flowers, yarn, and floral crafted beads. The open blue sky and plastic dragonfly balanced on a pointed fingertip add to the unusual effect reminiscent of childhood, getting lost playing in fantastical worlds and scenarios. It was this story that captured the judges’ attention, through a simple storytelling device the subject and composition were celebrated for their bold, striking simplicity and vibrant positive energy during these difficult times.

Mobile Category Winner

Reunion Place, 2021

Debarun Biswas
Reunion Place shows a Hindu monk sitting outside a Muslim Mosque. A child appears through the doorway in preparation for prayer. This sacred and beautiful moment of reunion between the two religions was captured with Debarun Biswas’s mobile phone – displaying the versatility and ability to capture a chance, fleeting moment with a portable camera inside your pocket. As international judge Veerle Poupeye observed “While the image is hopeful, the metal gate reminds us that this coexistence is fragile and needs to be nurtured, and that doors can be shut quickly if mutual respect and tolerance is not observed.”

This image was unanimously praised by the panel for its respectful observation of the scene whilst also displaying impressive technical skill despite being taken on a mobile phone. The formal qualities within the image; distinctive foreground and background, the contrast of the white wall and shadowed doorway, help tell a story and draw the eye from the monk’s confrontational direct gaze and warm smile to the child’s pathway to prayer across a sea of sandals.

While the image is hopeful, the metal gate reminds us that this coexistence is fragile and needs to be nurtured, and that doors can be shut quickly if mutual respect and tolerance is not observed

The Madiha Aijaz Prize

In a Distant Land, 2021

Shubhodeep Roy
Shubhodeep Roy is this year’s recipient of The Madiha Aijaz Prize, awarded to a young photographer of promise in memory of former ROSL ARTS alumni, filmmaker and photographer, Madiha Aijaz (1981–2019). Selected by friend and colleague Farah Mahbub, Professor of Photography at Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, Pakistan – In a Distant Land documents a group of Afghan friends of the Kabuliwala Community playing cricket in the Maidan area of Kolkata, India, on the day after Eid celebrations. Just 24 days later Sunday 15 August 2021, Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan was captured by the Taliban. Afghan ‘Kabuliwalas’, which translates as “men from Kabul”, have been coming to Kolkata for centuries selling dry fruits, asafoetida, and carpets. The Afghan community now consists of thousands of Afghan refugees with an uncertain future, as they are now separated from their families and friends back home.

Farah Mahbub observes, “As humans we make plans for the unforeseeable future with such determination and commitment knowing nothing is or ever was in our control. Afghanistan, within fleeting moments became an unstable country that the entire world watched burn. Simple mundane activities, such as playing cricket amongst friends, maybe now just a dream.” This powerful photograph shows how even after a relatively short amount of time (just four months since it was taken) an image’s narrative can twist sharply from playing games to a matter of life and death.

The commended top images selected by the judges are by:

Soumya Ranjan Bhattacharyya
Chinmoy Biswas
Debdatta Chakraborty
Sandipani Chattopadhyay
Mithail Afrige Chowdhury
Charlotte Dobson
Aravindan Ganesan
S R Hossain
MD Shamim Ul Islam
Syed Mahabubul Kader
Uwitonze Mussa
Isabel Okoro
Clair Robins
Greg Semu