The winning photograph at this year's Xposure International Photography Awards is a portrait by Dutch photographer Hossein Fardinfard.
The work shows an elderly woman with slumped shoulders and large, forthright eyes sitting behind a table. A near-empty fruit bowl and a bunch of flowers are set in front of her. Sunlight streams into the room from the sheer-curtained windows, falling on to the table and emphasising the colour of the flowers.
In the drab, dilapidated room with chipped walls, the orange of the blossoms is piercing.
The woman's name is Merry. She is one of the victims of the 1992 war in Abkhazia, a conflict between the Georgian government and the Russian-backed Abkhaz separatist forces.
After seeing both her brother and her husband, aged 53, murdered by Abkhaz soldiers, Merry escaped into the forest with a wounded leg, hiding in a forest for two weeks. Eventually, she reached the Georgian town of Tskaltubo, making a home in a small room in an abandoned building that had been a sanatorium in the country's Soviet days. Merry has been living there ever since.
Fardinfard's portrait of Merry, entitled Blackout, stood out from more than 1,500 photographs featured at the 2021 Xposure International Photography Festival. It was selected as the overall winner of the Xposure awards during a ceremony, which was held on Saturday at the Expo Centre Sharjah.
The award ceremony marked the conclusion of the fifth iteration of the annual festival. According to organisers, there were more than 33,000 submissions from 125 countries for this year’s awards.
Winners in other categories include German photographer Anna Wacker, who won first place in the architecture category for her photograph Box of Crayons. The work shows the facade of the Ministry of Urban Development and Environment in Hamburg, streaked with crayon-like colours.
Bahraini photographer Fatima Qader was selected as a runner-up in the same category for her work In Red. The photograph shows a minute solitary figure with a red umbrella walking in a vastly white, minimally designed outdoor area of Spain's Oscar Niemeyer International Cultural Centre.
Beauty of Greenland, an aerial photograph by Dutch artist Albert Dros, won first place in the drone category. The photograph shows two red sailboats idling by large blue icebergs near Greenland's Disko Bay.
Iranian photographer Ahmad Abbasi won second place in that category for his photograph Tree, which shows a branching pattern in a desert photographed from an altitude of 500 metres.
Emirati photographer Abdullah Alraese won first place in the junior category for his work The Dusk of Happiness City, which shows the Sharjah skyline canopied by a mass of red and yellow cloud.
Meanwhile, a picture of the Dubai skyline by Joel Josy was selected as the runner-up in the same category.
A photograph of the rolling grasslands in Xinjiang, China, called Prairie Song by Chinese artist Sheng Liu, won the prize in the landscape category.
The Dancing Mangroves II by Malaysian photographer Wong Choon Keat, showing a pair of mangrove trees twisting in a dancer's posture, was chosen as a runner-up.
Pedro Luis Saiz’s close-up portrait of a violet dropwing dragonfly won the Spanish photographer the award for best macro photograph. Saudi artist Riyad Hamzi was named runner-up for his close-up of a red potter wasp.
A photograph captured by Belgian artist Alain Schroeder called Saving Orangutans won the photojournalism award. The image was shot in Indonesia's Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme and shows a three-month old orangutan being prepared for surgery.
Hungarian photographer Simon Moricz-Sabjan won second prize for his work Uzsoki Hospital, which shows the hospital's medical staff taking care of a Covid-19 patient.
US photographer Kevin Shi won the award in the portraiture category for his image Girl Eagle Hunter. The photograph shows a Kazakh woman in traditional dress with an eagle perched on her arm.
Pakistani photographer Asim Ijaz was the runner-up in the same category for the portrait Cultural Portrait, which shows a man wearing a large red turban.
In the travel category, Thai photographer Wei Fu won the award for his photograph People on a Train, which shows travellers waiting to go home at Dhaka train station.
Chinese photographer Mingqian Wang was selected as the runner-up for the photograph Wait for Lunch, which shows a Tajik family sitting around a traditional kitchen hearth.
The award also had a short film category, won by Iranian filmmaker Zahra Kababian's Winter Memories. The film tells the story of an old woman with an impaired memory.
Nepalese filmmaker Tripty Tamang Pakhrin was selected as a runner-up for the film Across, set in ghetto of Gellerup in Denmark.
The award also had an open call for submissions from those working in the Sharjah government. Mohamed Noufal's photograph of the firework-spangled Sharjah corniche won first place, and Abdullah Aref's photograph of the Sharjah Mosque was selected as a runner-up.
Five winners of the Timothy Allen Photography Scholarship Award (Tapsa), an annual award that includes a 10-day residency opportunity, were also named during the Xposure International Photography Festival.
These included Michal Novotny, Kiran Ridley, F Dilek Uyar, Ata Ranjbarzeydanlou and Natalia Gorshkova. According to organisers, more than 1,600 applicants submitted their portfolios for this year’s Tapsa.
Speaking at the closing ceremony on Saturday evening, Sheikh Sultan bin Ahmed al Qasimi, chairman of Sharjah Media Council, told participating photographers that the pictures they take today would serve as lessons and messages of hope and kindness for future generations.
“As the journey of the fifth edition of the International Photography Festival – Xposure concludes, the stories behind each picture we saw will live in our memories forever. We learnt so much from these images … We learnt that we all have a bigger responsibility towards the world. We learnt that photographers are noble agents of change,” he said.
The four-day festival presented works by more than 400 photographers in 54 solo and group exhibitions. The festival, which was attended by more than 8,000 people, also held a number of seminars, talks, workshops and portfolio reviews that invited both seasoned and aspiring photographers to share their insights.
The festival concluded with the official launch of Gallery X, a new permanent international photography gallery in Al Majaz Amphitheatre. The venue houses a collection of works by world-renowned photographers who have participated in the Xposure International Photography Awards.