The end of last year saw the curated presentation of the Visual Arts Commission’s inaugural Kingdom Photography Award, exhibiting the grant winners of The Kingdom Professional Grant and Kingdom Photography Discovery Competition alongside photographs by the nominees at Hayy Jameel in Jeddah (9–11 December 2022).
The Kingdom Photography Award has been established as an annual photography competition dedicated to documenting the regions of Saudi Arabia. According to Dina Amin, chief executive of the country’s Visual Arts Commission, “the Kingdom Photography Award was established as an annual award to highlight the immense talent of local photographers alongside international photographers who, through their creativity and their lenses, will discover the majesty and pristine beauty of Saudi Arabia’s landscapes and coastal environments. It will also create and celebrate opportunities for cultural and artistic exchange within the Kingdom.”
Early and mid-career photographers from Saudi Arabia and abroad were tasked with producing works that reflected their unique perspectives of the Red Sea city of Al Wajh in the Kingdom’s Tabuk Province. Their results were judged by a jury comprising Amin and leading Saudi and international experts, including award-winning environmental photographer Daniel Beltra; Zein Khalifa, co-founder of TINTERA, a gallery in Cairo dedicated to photography; Abdullah K AlTurki, a founding member of the Saudi Art Council; and contemporary artist and photographer Moath Alofi.
The Kingdom Photography Award was split between the Professional Grant and Discovery Competition, each with entries divided into three categories designed to highlight all aspects of the chosen region: urban environment, underwater, and nature along the coast. The winners in the Grant category were named as Nyree Cox, Alex Dawson and Andrea Dina Alkalay for the respective categories and Mohammed Abdulrahman Lahi, Osama Ali Abusunnon and Riyadh Abdulelah Al Malahi were selected as winners in the Discovery Competition. All participants took part in collaborative workshops which culminated in three days of site visits and shooting, as Amin shared: “Participating photographers took part in excursions to the Tabuk region, where they were immersed in the natural beauty of the environment.” The exhibition displayed photographs from these trips, created by all the shortlisted nominees and winners, and ranging from Lahi’s focus on architecture, history and building details to Abusunnon’s striking captures of shallow coral reefs and shipwrecks in the Red Sea and Al Malahi’s animals and humans traversing the desert landscapes and rocky coastlines.
The grant winners each received a commission to create a photographic archive of the selected region, as well as a grant of USD 30,000 and vouchers worth USD 5000 for the purchase of photography equipment, while the winners of the Discovery Competition received around USD 5500, plus equipment vouchers.
For Amin, it was crucial to include photographers from around the world, as she shared with Canvas: “Engaging local photographers with international photographers is one of the main objectives of this pioneering initiative, which encourages participating photographers to exchange knowledge and expertise.” This interaction prompted a diverse multitude of perspectives. “Participants were urged to capture the natural beauty of the landscape, celebrate the shared creative language of photography and contribute to the artistic communities that are dedicated to the pursuit of photography,” explained Amin.
As for moving forward, Amin added that “In future editions, we hope to see the award continue to mature and embrace additional themes or categories while continuing to provide both local and international talent opportunities to explore their creativity, and build a community while celebrating the beauty that the Kingdom holds.”