2011 Winners - Runner-up: Andrew McConnell
Andrew McConnell’s photographic series The Last Colony is an exploration of the indigenous people of Western Sahara, the Sahrawi. The victims of invasions, oppression, and geopolitics, the Sahrawi remain in a state of flux, spread over an area of Western Sahara and in refugee camps in Algeria while they await the long promised referendum on independence.
In contrast to the usual war image-stream that valorizes strong men and heroics, McConnell creates monumentality by photographing the utterly quotidian—at night. A family gathers in front of a television set, an incongruous polka-dot blanket spread underneath; a gas-station attendant awaits the next filling; a boy stops on his water-selling route. Lit from a single source—except for the few instances when a second light enters the frame, creating intriguing formal relationships—the arrangements spotlight the individual while encasing them in a much larger plane of dark desert: empty, still, and nondescript.
McConnell’s singular approach to his subject matter lifts these everyday portraits to something akin to a film still. While the story, underpinned by geopolitical context, hints at the ideals of photographic truth, the framing, position, and lighting of the subject matter plays with these assumptions, connoting a neatly staged construction, albeit [a staging based on] real experience. From this cinematic vantage point, McConnell’s images transcend straight documentary photography, communicating the Sahrawi’s story through a contemporary pictorial language.
Irish photographer Andrew McConnell began his career as a press photographer covering the closing stages of the conflict in his homeland before transitioning to more in-depth social documentary work around the world. His images have appeared in many of the world’s top publications.