Photographer of the Year: Athit Perawongmetha

BANGKOK - The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand (FCCT) and OnAsia, the region's leading stock photography and assignment agency, announced the winners of this year's FCCT/OnAsia Photojournalism Contest.

Some 316 photographers submitted more than 5,500 images from across the region. Judges selected winners in four categories: Spot News, Feature Photography, Environmental Issues (a special category sponsored by the Delegation of the European Union to Thailand) and Photo Essay. In addition, the judges selected a Photographer of the Year, the contest's top prize.

This year's winners are:

Photographer of the Year: Athit Perawongmetha

Spot News
First Place: Salil Bera (West Bengal leopard attack)
Honorable Mention: Altaf Qadri (Kashmiri intifada)

Feature Photography
First Place: Graham Crouch (artificial limb therapy in Kabul)
Honorable Mention: Muhammed Muheisen (day laborers in Pakistan)
Honorable Mention: Edwin Koo (Pakistan's Swat Valley)

Environmental Issues
First Place: Aaron Favila (Philippines typhoon)
Honorable Mention: Jashim Salam (Bangladesh tidal surges)
Honorable Mention: Erik Messori (Indian coal mining)

Photo Essay
First Place: Diego Verges Requejo (Indonesian "Ludruk" theater)

The FCCT/OnAsia photo contest has solidified its position as one of the most important photo contests in Asia since its inception in 2007. The quality and range of the photographs submitted each year continues to grow, underscoring how Asia's photographers remain committed to reporting difficult and important stories despite economic pressures in the international media industry that are making it harder for photojournalists to earn a sufficient working wage.

The judges expressed special commendation for the work of Athit Perawongmetha, a photojournalist based in Bangkok, who won the year's coveted Photographer of the Year award. Since starting out in photography as a hobby in the late 1990s, Mr. Athit has emerged as one of the most prominent and celebrated shooters in Bangkok's busy photojournalism scene. His dramatic images of Thailand's Red Shirt protests in 2010 - including one that won First Place in the Spot News category of the 2010 FCCT/OnAsia Photojournalism Contest - garnered international attention and propelled his work to another level. In 2011, he covered several of the region's biggest news stories, including the devastating tsunami in Japan and Thailand's mid-year elections. The result was a body of work that impressed the judges for its breadth, diligence and bravery, including a series of haunting images shot within the 20-kilometer "exclusion zone" around Japan's Fukushima-Daichi nuclear power plant. All his images showed the careful attention to detail and sensitivity to human suffering that were evident in his widely-recognized work from the 2010 Red Shirt protests, and further established Mr. Athit as one of Asia's top photographers.

The judges were also highly pleased with the submissions for the Delegation of the European Union to Thailand's Environmental Issues category, a special category established this year focusing on the environment in Asia, including issues important to the European Union such as natural resources and waste; climate change; nature and biodiversity; and the environment and public health. The EU sponsored a similar special category in 2010 focusing on human rights that chronicled abuses in Cambodia, Myanmar and elsewhere.

Judges were especially impressed with the prize's top winner, Aaron Favila, whose winning image captured the devastating impact of natural disasters whose increasing frequency in recent years is widely linked to climate change. The dramatic image showed a man hanging on to what remains of his home on stilts as he tries to recover his belongings after powerful Typhoon Nesat wiped out homes along a coastal village north of Manila in September 2011.

Other photographers recognized in the category documented the challenges posed by tidal surges in coastal areas of Bangladesh affected by climate change, and the growing toll of coal mining in Asia, which is shortening the lives of mine workers while releasing more carbon monoxide into the air.

"The European Union is proud to associate itself with this prize," said Ambassador David Lipman, Head of the EU's Bangkok-based Delegation to Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. "These pictures tell stories of the interaction between human behaviour and the world we live in. They illustrate the causes of environmental degradation as well as its consequences. Looking at Aaron Favila's photos of people trying to hold on to their possessions in the face of the devastating forces of nature, it is hard to avoid thinking of the floods that struck Thailand last year. The European Union is a leader in the fight against climate change and the global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through improving energy efficiency and increasing the use of clean technologies. These images remind us why this is such an important undertaking."

"For the fifth year in a row, we are awed by dedication, skill and imagination of photographers working in Asia despite the massive challenges they face," added Patrick Barta, an FCCT board member and an organizer of the event. "We are very proud to celebrate their work, and hope that by promoting the best photographs in Asia, we can do our part to help protect photojournalism for the years ahead."

Winners in the spot news, feature photography and photo essay categories won $1,000 cash and 1 round-trip ticket for economy-class air travel in Asia, courtesy of Star Alliance, the global airline network whose members include Thai Airways and other carriers. The winner in the environmental issues category won $2,000 cash, courtesy of the Delegation of the European Union to Thailand. The Photographer of the Year won a $3,000 cash prize and round-trip ticket for economy-class air travel in Asia.

The contest would not have been possible without the generous support of FCCT's many sponsors, and its media partner, OnAsia:

OnAsia (www.onasia.com) is the leading Asia-specialized editorial photo-agency. The agency represents over 200 photographers across the region who cover a wide variety of subjects; from political and social trends, gritty photo reportage to more colorful and humorous travel and illustration imagery.

Indorama Ventures Public Company Limited is one of the largest vertically integrated polyester chain producers in the world whose products serve major players in the food, beverage, personal and home care, health care, automotive, textile and industrial sectors. Indorama is a major supporter of FCCT and its events. It provided significant financial support for prizes for this year's contest.

The Delegation of the European Union in Thailand represents European Union interests in Thailand and promotes human rights and other development issues. It provided financial support for the environmental issues category in this year's contest.

Star Alliance is a global airline network that includes Thai Airways and other major international carriers. It has long supported FCCT and this year provided round-trip plane tickets in Asia for contest prizes.

TQPR Thailand is a leading independent firm dedicated to providing consultancy services and value-added results to local, regional and global clients. TQPR provided administrative and consulting support for promoting this year's contest.

Bloom Digital Photo Lab is one of Bangkok's most-trusted photo imaging labs and a long-time partner of the FCCT. It provided high-quality prints of the winning images for exhibition at the FCCT clubhouse and other services.

This year's awards are also made possible by the acclaimed photography experts who served as judges for the contest:

Dirk Claus has worked as Photoeditor Asia for Stern Magazine in Hong Kong and now in Bangkok. He was head of the Stern.de photo department from 2001 until 2008. Before that he worked as the head of the Picture International Photoagency in Hamburg. He studied photography at the Royal Academy of Arts in the Netherlands, and worked as a photography assistant and producer in Amsterdam and Hamburg.

Anne Olf has been a picture editor with the European Pressphoto Agency (epa) since 2007. After first being based at epa's headquarters in Frankfurt, she relocated to Bangkok in 2009 to set up the agency's regional editorial desk for Asia. In 2012 she will move on to join epa's editorial and marketing team in the US.

Damir Sagolj is a Bangkok-based award-winning photographer who is the senior Reuters staff photographer covering Asia - and anywhere else where news is breaking. He spent ten years covering the Middle East including the intifada, and the Iran/Iraq conflict along with the more recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He also spent five years documenting the conflict in the Balkans. His work has been widely published and exhibited including at the presigious photo-journalism festival, Visa pour L'image in Perpignan.

The FCCT will continue to display the winning photos at its clubhouse during a special exhibition until the middle of March.
    FCCT Photo Contest Winners Exhibition
    Dates: Jan. 20 - March. 13
    Location: FCCT Clubhouse, Penthouse floor, Maneeya Center, 518/5 Ploenchit Road, Bangkok 10330 (connected to the BTS Skytrain Chitlom station)
    Hours of operation: Open Monday-Friday 10:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m. Closed Saturday, Sunday, and holidays
    Tel: 02-652-0580-1
    Web Site: www.fccthai.com


Athit Perawongmetha is a Bangkok-based freelance photographer. He started his work as a hobby in 1997 while working as a computer engineer and eventually began to work in photography full-time. He worked for several magazines and the International Herald Tribune's ThaiDay section, and most recently, for Getty Images News Agency as a stringer covering news in Thailand and other countries in Asia. His works have also been published in several magazines and newspaper including Time, The Guardian, The International Herald Tribune, the New York Times. He was a 2010 First Place winner in the Spot News category of the FCCT/OnAsia Photojournalism Contest and has won numerous other awards.

Salil Bera is a Kokata, India-based photojournalist who currently works as a senior photographer for The Week magazine. He has also worked with the Hindustan Times in Kolkata as chief photographer (features), and the Statesman newspaper in Siliguri, covering subjects ranging from sports to news to fashion. He has been selected twice as Best Photojournalist by the Fashion Design Council of India and received second prize at the Mumbai Press Photo Competition (2005) in the Arts & Entertainment Category.

Graham Crouch is a New Delhi, India-based photographer who has worked as a professional photographer since 1985, including ten years as a sports photographer for Australia's national daily, The Australian, throughout the 1990s. His work has covered the news spectrum from papal visits to Asean summits to sports events including the Olympics and Commonwealth Games for publications in Australia and across the globe. He moved to India in 2008 and since then has traveled extensively to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Clients include Unicef, Getty Images, The New York Times, Bloomberg, Gourmet Traveler magazine, The Financial Review magazine (Australia) The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Times (Britain), The Independent, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, and The International Federation of the Red Cross. He won a 2009 FCCT/OnAsia Photojournalism Contest Feature Photography award, among other prizes.

Aaron Favila is an Associated Press staff photographer based in Quezon City, Philippines. He has worked for the AP since 1998, covering everything from the Pakistan floods of 2010 to the Philippines Ampatuan massacre in 2009 to Typhoon Ketsana in 2009. He has also worked in Afghanistan and has shot other military-related stories involving Abu Sayyaf terrorists in the Philippines.

Edwin Koo is a freelance photojournalist based in Singapore.  He is currently represented by U.S.-based ZUMA Press agency and has been published in The International Herald Tribune, GEO Germany, Global Post, Rhythms (Taiwan) and Asia! (Singapore). He is a past recipient of the Getty Images Grant for Editorial Photography, among other awards, and his works have been exhibited internationally.

Erik Messori is an independent photojournalist based in Italy. He began his photographic career with local newspapers in his native Italian region. In 2003 he began working freelance for publications such as the Out of Focus Magazine, Photojournale , Private Magazine, The Australian, Bite Magazine, Social Documentary, Corriere della Sera, Vision Magazine and Peace Reporter Magazine. He cooperates with News International and A.N.S.A. During his career he has photographed international stories in Albania, Kosovo, Chernobyl, Belarus, Bangladesh, Italy, India, Vietnam and Australia.

Muhammed Bassem Muheisen is an Associated Press photographer for Pakistan based in Islamabad. He joined the Associated Press in 2001, covering the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Israel, before moving to other international assignments in 2003. He has covered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the capture of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, and peace summits as well stories in France, China, Yemen and currently Pakistan. Mr. Muheisen's work has received many international awards, including a Breaking News Pulitzer Prize in 2005 for covering the war in Iraq. His photos have appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Time Magazine, National Geographic, Newsweek, Spiegel, and The Guardian.

Altaf Qadri is an Amritsar, India photographer who began his career as a computer expert before switching to photography as a profession. In 2003, he joined the European Pressphoto Agency, and in 2008, he joined The Associated Press. He has covered news stories in Afghanistan, Libya, Nepal, Cambodia, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Thailand and numerous provinces of India. His photographs have appeared in Time, The Guardian, The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, The Washington Post and The Times and others. Previous awards include 1st prize in the People in News category of the World Press Photo 2011, among others.

Diego Verges Requejo is an Indonesia-based photographer whose passions include work studying the lives of indigenous peoples. He has worked in Gabon, India, Nepal, the Philippines, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Malaysia and Indonesia. His photography has been published in many Spanish publications, including Super Foto, and he has been appointed as one of the Getty Images Global Assignment photographers. His past awards include the Luis Ksado Award 2010.

Jashim Salam is a Chittagong, Bangladesh-based photographer working for DrikNEWS, an international news photo agency, since 2008. He is also studying photojournalism in The South Asian Media Academy and Institute of Photography. His work focuses on social documentary such as profiles of migrant workers, handicapped people, and climate-change refugees. His work has been published in The Sunday Times Magazine, Reader's Digest, Better Photography, CNN, Photojournale, National Geographic online, Reuters, and many others. He is the recipient of many awards including the Jury Special Award in the 6th Humanity Photo Awards.

Images of this year's contest are available and can be obtained by contacting FCCT board member Patrick Barta at patrick.barta@wsj.com or 081-309-9109. They will also be available for viewing later in January at www.fccthai.com. Interviews with winning photographers can also be arranged.

Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand
Penthouse, Maneeya Center Building
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