Do these photographs deserve top prize?

Do these photographs deserve top prize?
Portrait Of Brother by Sarah Choo is one of the photograph in the series that won her the Icon de Martell Cordon Bleu 2013 award. The series of photographs explore issues of identity and acceptance by portraying the act of acquiring possessions.

Fresh graduate Sarah Choo was prepared for the talk that would greet her win after she snagged Singapore's richest photography prize.

The 23-year-old beat seven others, including established independent photographer Darren Soh, 37, and Beijing-based former Straits Times correspondent Sim Chi Yin, 34, to win the $30,000 Icon de Martell Cordon Bleu prize last Thursday.

Choo, who graduated from Nanyang Technological University and is the award's youngest winner, says: "I was prepared for people to ask why I won instead of other prominent photographers, and for work that blurs the line between photography and other mediums." Her work, which brings together still images, painting and performance using the medium of photography, won praise from the jury for its skilful execution and novel photographic language.

While members of the photography community interviewed laud Choo's multi-disciplinary approach to photography, her win has left some wondering about the state of the medium.

Others have raised questions about the transparency of the judging process because only a portion of the works submitted by each artist is on view to the public.

Singapore-based Dutch photographer Marcel Heijnen, 49, says: "It is interesting to see someone starting out bag the prize because the judging is based on a body of work and generally, you would expect someone in his 30s or 40s to have a larger body of work. But it is encouraging that there is young talent like that in Singapore that is being recognised."

The photography award established by Martell Cordon Bleu cognac is into its fourth year and entry is by nomination only. The organiser selects a nomination panel comprising professionals from the photography and visual arts community here, who then come up with a long list of names from which they select eight nominees. The nominees have to be either Singaporeans or permanent residents and practising as artists for five years.

French photography curator Agnes de Gouvion Saint-Cyr, 68, president of the award's jury, says it was "a close competition" this year.

She says: "It resulted in a lengthy and robust discussion on which of the top three nominees would be awarded the Icon de Martell Cordon Bleu prize. In the end, the judges decided to go for a vote to determine the winner." The other two top nominees were Sim and Soh.

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