RPS The Decisive Moment - Edition 28 - January 2024

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Quarterly journal from the Documentary Group THE DECISIVE MOMENT
January 2024 Edition 28 ISSN 2634-8225
Photo: Alisa Martynova
Contents 2 04 From Our Chair 08 Documentary Group Team and Plan 10 From Our President 12 DPA 2023 Open Category Awards 14 Testament ‘22 - Byron Smith 30 Nowhere Near - Alisa Martynova 46 Portraits of artists of condition-related art - Gerard Saitner 58 DPA 2023 Student Category Awards 60 Lito - Julián Cabral 76 The Costs of Freedom - Sefa Eyol 88 On These Magic Shores - Tamsyn Warde 104 DPA 2023 RPS Member Category Awards 106 Love is a Life Story - Ruth Toda-Nation 122 No Safety Net - Brian Morgan FRPS 138 Midwest Memoir - Michael Knapstein 154 RPS Documentary Events 156 On The Bookshelf: Daniel Meadows - Book of the Road 172 RPS Documentary Online

Open Category Awards p12

Image: Gerard Saitner

RPS Member Category Awards p104

Image: Michael Knapstein

Student Category Awards p58

Image: Sefa Eyol

On the Bookshelf: Daniel Meadows, Book of the Road p156


From Our Chair

Welcome to 2024!

This edition is largely devoted to our Documentary Photography Awards. So, if I may indulge, this “From Our Chair” focuses largely on the processes we used and to provide a little context.

After a successful expansion of our Documentary Photographer of the Year in 2021, we changed the focus a little in 2023 with the desire to move from an overt “competition” to awards that would allow us to recognise and showcase more documentary photography. We also wanted to reflect support and development of documentary photography, and this is shown in the actual awards made.

Our intent was to select nine projects for exhibition, with three projects from each of a Members, Students and Open category. This format enables us to show work from our own RPS members, plus work of upcoming and student photographers, as well as from more seasoned and experienced photographers in the open category. In that respect it is fairly unique.

The submissions closed at the end of July. In total 235 projects, with over 3000 images were entered, spread fairly evenly across the three categories. The entries went through an online process of longlisting, shortlisting, and then final selection. We use the same system the RPS uses for IPE, and BJP uses for Portrait of Britain.

This year, our international panel of selectors included:

Alejandro Chaskielberg, photographer and curator, Buenos Aires

Liz Hingley, photographer, curator and anthropologist, London

Roy Mehta, Photographer and Lecturer, London

Rosy Santella, picture editor, Internazionale, Rome

Roger Tooth, former head of photography, The Guardian

The entire process was blind with the selectors having no information on the photographers, other than the images and the statements (and captions, if provided). Each selector scored independently, and scores were aggregated. Shortlisted images were announced in September and then checked for potential use of generative AI (which we prohibited). Final selection and discussions took place at a meeting in early November and the Awards were formally announced on 30 November at an online event. Making the final selection of just three projects was difficult as we had such strong entries. I am really grateful to all our selectors for giving up their time and for their diligence.


The selected projects are diverse, ranging from the impact of conflict, migration, reflections on history and memory, performance, ageing, mental health, and childhood. They provide an insight into the range of what documentary can do and how it can be used to tell stories.

The 2023 Awards are as follows:

Student Category

Julián Cabral Lito Argentina Bursary

Sefa Eyol The Costs of Freedom Turkey / China RPS Membership

Tamsyn Warde On These Magic Shores UK Support

Members Category

Michael Knapstein Midwest Memoir USA RPS Membership

Ruth Toda-Nation Love is a Life Story UK Support

Brian Morgan No Safety Net UK MPF Membership

Open Category

Byron Smith Testament ‘22 USA Bursary

Alisa Martynova Nowhere Near Italy Support

Gerard Saitner Portraits of artists of condition-related art Austria RPS Membership


Consistent with the aim of developing the photographers and their practice, some photographers will receive one-to-one support as follows: Open (Mimi Mollica), Student (Laura Pannack) and Members (Liz Hingley). The support can be used to help develop their project or their practice; that is up to them.

We will have a short news item on the Awards in the next RPS Journal and aim for a more in-depth article on one or more of the selected photographers in a later edition. A future edition of The Decisive Moment will feature work from other shortlisted photographers.

A key activity in 2024 is our touring exhibition. So far, we have confirmed:

May - The Nunnery Gallery, Bow, London

June - Eden Court, Inverness

July - Stables Gallery, Stirling

August - Oriel Colwyn, North Wales

September - Arts Centre, Newcastle

October - St. John’s College, Oxford

November (tbc)- RPS House, Bristol

A huge amount of work goes on in the background to secure these venues, so I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Harry Hall and the regional groups who have helped organise this.


Along with the exhibition we plan to hold several in-person talks with the successful photographers or selectors, and other events, at selected venues in conjunction with the relevant regions and regional groups. In other news it has been good to see members run more local activities including the exhibitions and online YouTube events in East Anglia, exhibitions in South East and a documentary/ contemporary collaboration in Central, with a new photobook as output.

If you have ideas for other activities or collaborations, please get in contact.

Finally, to help better promote and publicise events we have agreed that Documentary and Contemporary group events will be copromoted to each group as many of these events are of interest to both groups.



The Documentary Group Team

Documentary Group Committee:

Chair: Mark A Phillips FRPS doc@rps.org

Secretary: Nick Linnett LRPS docsecretary@rps.org

Treasurer: Andrew Ripley doctreasurer@rps.org

Members: Harry Hall FRPS, Chris Martinka, Valerie Mather ARPS, Wayne Richards, Dave Thorp, Nick Hodgson FRPS

Sub-Group Organisers:

East Midlands: Volunteer Required docem@rps.org

South East: Jeff Owen ARPS docse@rps.org

Northern: Peter Dixon ARPS docnorthern@rps.org

Thames Valley: Philip Joyce FRPS doctv@rps.org

Central (with Contemporary): Steff Hutchinson ARPS

North West (with Contemporary) Alan Cameron

Yorkshire: Carol Hudson LRPS docyork@rps.org

Southern: Christopher Morris ARPS docsouthern@rps.org

East Anglia: Richard Jeffries docea@rps.org

Scotland (with Contemprary et al): Steve Whittaker

The Decisive Moment:

Editor: Nick Hodgson FRPS decisive@rps.org

Sub-Editors: Lyn Newton LRPS, Rachael Hill

Editorial: Mike Longhurst FRPS, Gerry Phillipson ARPS

Publishing Dave Thorp docpublishing@rps.org

And the Rest of the Team:

Bi-Monthly Competition: Volunteer Required dgcompetitions@rps.org

Social Media: Wayne Richards docweb@rps.org

Flickr: Volunteer Required

The Documentary Group Plans for 2021-2024

Overall Objective

To support the RPS Strategic Plan Photography for Everyone and to enhance the relevance for Documentary Photography by engaging more diverse audiences and ensuring our activities self-fund. We have focussed our goals and 2021-2024 targets under the RPS Mission of inspiration, creativity, and connection:

Inspire – showcase inspiring photography and to shed new light on subjects of importance

These activities are focussed around showcasing and celebrating high quality photographic work and thinking, which is fundamental to the RPS’s purpose:

Engagement Talks

The Decisive Moment

RPS Documentary Photography Awards (DPA)

DPA Exhibitions

Create – encouraging a deeper understanding of photography and providing resources for photographic education

To develop the range and reach of our educational activities. We want to help photographers develop their practice, and also educate non-photographers about what is current in documentary photography:

‘Telling Stories’ Workshops

Distinction Advisory

Engage University courses

Support individual development

Connect – promote belonging and inclusivity, by supporting and engaging widely

To engage with more people and connect with other communities, including those who are not photographers, to appreciate the value of documentary photography, so that it is enjoyed and accessible to as many people as possible:

Work with groups outside RPS

Regional and international activities

Website and social media

Documentary Group Bi-Monthly Competition

Monthly Newsletter

The Documentary Group is run by RPS members who volunteer their time. If you can help in any capacity, please email Mark using doc@rps.org to let him know. rps.org/groups/documentary/about-us

From Our President

Documentary Photography Awards 2023

On the importance of the documentary genre …

It is only two years since I wrote an introduction to the RPS Documentary Photographer of the Year Awards 2021. In that brief time we have experienced the emergence of a technology that is blurring the line between reality and fiction. As Artificial Intelligence (AI) explodes pervasively into almost every aspect of life and society, it has at pace become an existential threat to the authenticity and credibility that defines the documentary genre.

At one extreme of the spectrum, AI has the ability to subtly alter aspects of reality yet, at the other extreme, particularly when in the hands of ‘bad actors’ who have no respect for the truth of journalistic and documentary story-telling, it has the ability to generate images (not photographs) depicting a completely false ‘alternative reality’ that masquerades under the long-established legitimacy of the documentary genre.

As the veracity of documentary-style images becomes questioned, eroding the very foundation of truth in storytelling, the potential consequences for society are profound.

Documentary photographs in their truest and purest form capture unembellished moments frozen in time. They are a testament to reality, unfiltered and unadulterated, serving as historical records bearing witness to events, cultures, and social issues.

In the early 1980s, at a time when I was devouring a college textbook, Pictures on a Page by Sir Harold Evans (1928-2020) - for fourteen years the Editor of The Sunday Times and the 1980 recipient of the RPS Hood Medal - the multi award-winning CBS television drama series Lou Grant was airing in the UK on Channel 4. The series told the story of the fictitious newspaper, the Los Angeles Tribune and, through its storylines, it provided a serious examination of ethical questions in journalism and argued in support of the principles of journalistic storytelling. In one episode, Lou Grant - the Tribune’s City Editor, played by Ed Asner (19292021) - made an impassioned statement on the purpose of the newspaper:


“… this newspaper informs, it alerts, it helps fashion public opinion, it acts as a guide for politics, for the environment, the arts, all aspects of society.”

Although a work of fiction, hearing this statement at the same time I was reading Evans’ Pictures on a Page, it had a lasting effect on my approach to editorial and documentary photography that I would carry with me into my post-college professional practice. I would argue vehemently that, with the rapid growth in the threat of AI to the authenticity of visual journalism and the documentary photograph, this sentiment rings truer for me today than it did over forty years ago.

More than ever before in the almost two centuries of the history of photography, the ambition and principles of the documentary genre must stand firm as the pillar of truth in visual storytelling. With the importance of an authentic, unaltered, truthful, and entirely visual narrative medium now of such crucial importance to society, never has there been a time of greater importance and relevance for the work of the RPS Documentary Group.

The committee and the members of the Group are international standardbearers of the genre and the Documentary Photography Awards 2024 should be seen as a beacon that lights the path to ensuring the genre and the practice of documentary photography remain true to their foundation ideals.

On behalf of the RPS Board of Trustees, I would like to thank Dr Mark Phillips FRPS and the entire RPS Documentary Group committee and membership for their unwavering commitment to truth and authenticity, ensuring that documentary photography remains an indispensable cornerstone in preserving our collective visual history and shaping a more informed and empathetic future.


Documentary Photography Awards

2023 Open Category

12 Feature Title - Name
13 Feature Title - Name

Open Category

Byron Smith

Testament ‘22

14 DPA 2023 - Open Category
A Polish-Ukrainian couple says goodbye while on the line at the Polish-Ukrainian border checkpoint. Many of the nation’s men and some fighting-age women have been streaming across the border to join their countrymen to repel the Russian assault on the country on February 26, 2022.

Originally from Brooklyn NYC, and based in Athens, Greece since 2019, Byron Smith is a professional photographer who has been working as a freelancer since 2011. His submission Testament ‘22 was shot in Ukraine in 2022, starting a few days after the Russian invasion through to the end of December. In all, he visited Ukraine six times that year, travelling as extensively as he was able to.

‘I’m a seasoned photojournalist of conflict’, he explains, ‘and a few days after the war began, I embarked on a mission to document the country at war, hoping my work could help tell the unvarnished truth of what is happening on the ground at a human level. I made the pictures to show the truth of this war’s horrific nature to make a statement about the victims of this senseless conflict in Ukraine. I wanted to show the strength, dignity, resilience, and courage of a population who didn’t ask to bear this burden but who still believe they are doing it so the West and other democratic nations will not have to.’

He drew on Ukrainian culture for the title of his project. ‘It comes from my take on the original poem Testament (Zapovit, 1845) by Taras Shevchenko, whose literary works are considered the basis of modern Ukrainian literature and, to a considerable extent, of the modern Ukrainian language.‘ And it’s obvious that the time he spent in Ukraine in 2022 had a profound effect on him: ‘I was surprised by the hospitality of the Ukrainian people, some who had lost everything and had nothing but still tried to offer me whatever they had to make me, an outsider, comfortable. Under such dire conditions it’s something that will stick with me forever.’ It’s a recurring theme which says a lot about the Ukrainian people and their struggle.

Byron is clear about what being selected for DPA23 means for him: ‘I’m grateful to be recognized by such a prestigious photographic organisation. It means much to me since Roger Fenton (who helped establish the RPS), who photographed in Moscow, Kyiv and most famously in Crimea, was one inspiration as to why I became a photojournalist with a focus on the causes and effects of conflict. Winning recognition for this work helps keep the interest alive in Ukraine two years after the initial shock may wear off on the public at large.’

All images ©Byron Smith 2023

www.instagram.com/byronsmitty www.byronsmithphoto.com

15 Testament ‘22 - Byron Smith
16 DPA 2023 - Open Category
Ukrainian refugees line up to board a train to Poland at the Lviv central train station in Lviv, Ukraine. March 3, 2022. Less than one week into the war of Russian aggression in Ukraine, 1 million refugees have left their homes. In the second round of talks, both countries agreed to create a “humanitarian corridor” and a potential ceasefire to allow more refugees to flee.
17 Testament ‘22 - Byron Smith
A restaurant in Baryshivka, a village 60km east of Kyiv, was damaged when a Russian ballistic missile struck the area. The strike injured six people and destroyed surrounding residential buildings. March 11, 2022.
18 DPA 2023 - Open Category
A group of Ukrainian IDPs who fled Irpin, a suburb of Kyiv that has seen heaving fighting and shelling, arrive at an area before the destroyed bridge into the city during the third week of the Russian invasion.
19 Testament ‘22 - Byron Smith
A group of humanitarian volunteers, who were aiding fleeing refugees, and journalists, are forced to take cover in a ditch on the side of the road as an incoming Russian artillery barrage strikes an area near the bridge that links Kyiv to Irpin. The site has seen intense fighting during the third week of the Russian invasion. March 13, 2022.
20 DPA 2023 - Open Category
The body of a civilian is evacuated from Irpin, a suburb of Kyiv that has seen heaving fighting in the third week of the Russian invasion. March 12, 2022.
21 Testament ‘22 - Byron Smith
March 14, 2022, Ukraine: Yelena Herhel is consoled over the body of her husband Arkadiy Yasinsky, a civilian killed by Russian forces at a military checkpoint in Stoyanka, a village west of Kyiv, during funeral services in Kyiv on March 14, 2022.

Natalya mourns the death of her son Alexander, a 40-year-old real estate agent. According to her, he was killed as he tried to rescue her while Russian troops entered the city as she hid in an underground shelter. Alexander’s wife informed her mother-inlaw about her son’s fate two weeks after leaving hiding. She says when volunteers found him, he showed signs of torture and had a gunshot wound to the back of the head. May 2022.

22 DPA 2023 - Open Category
23 Testament ‘22 - Byron Smith
Sunday mass in a church once situated on the front line and subsequently sustained damage from Russian shelling in Chernihiv on June 19, 2022.

Five kilometres from the Ukrainian-Russian border in the Kharkiv region, a Ukrainian special forces soldier with the 130 Battalion out of Kyiv sleeps amid artillery and heavy weapons fire with his squad at a safe house. The previous day he and his team provided “security” to enable a mining squad to carry out their mission between the Ukrainian and Russian frontlines. November 14, 2022.

24 DPA 2023 - Open Category
25 Testament ‘22 - Byron Smith
Ukrainian field medics arrive from the front to treat a wounded soldier injured from an artillery attack in Bakhmut at a frontline clinic outside the city on December 29, 2022, in Bakhmut, Ukraine. A large swath of Donetsk region has been held by Russianbacked separatists since 2014. Russia has tried to expand its control here since the February 24 invasion.
26 DPA 2023 - Open Category
A surgeon with Ukraine’s 5th Separate Assault Regiment codenamed “Raindrop,” left, checks the vital signs of a Ukrainian infantry soldier as he is treated for wounds sustained from a Russian artillery attack in Bakhmut at a frontline stabilization clinic located outside the city on December 29, 2022, in Bakhmut, Ukraine. Russian-backed separatists have held a large swath of the Donetsk region since 2014. Russia has tried to expand its control here since the February 24 invasion.
27 Testament ‘22 - Byron Smith
A Ukrainian combat medic leads a soldier out of a frontline clinic after he witnessed the death of his commander on the operating table as he was being treated for shrapnel wounds to the head and chest during a Russian artillery attack in Bakhmut, in Donetsk Oblast on December 28, 2022.
28 DPA 2023 - Open Category
Ukrainian youths contribute to the war effort by working on a camouflage net for the army in Lviv, Ukraine, on February 28, 2022.

Serhiy, 56, spends the afternoon helping his elderly neighbors recover buried tools in the rubble of their home to rebuild their house in Chernihiv on April 28, 2022. The city, with a population of 285,000, had been under siege for 39 days and killed 700 people, according to the city’s mayor.

29 Testament ‘22 - Byron Smith
30 DPA 2023 - Open Category Open Category
Martynova Nowhere
All images ©Alisa Martynova 2023 www.instagram.com/alisamartynova_ www.alisamartynova.com
Raindrops symbolize the splashing water and storms in migrants’ stories, Livorno, Italy. I also see them as a metaphor for stars flung out into space as the result of the collision of two balck holes, and as representing the unknown: a place both attractive and terrifying, holding hope as well as nightmares.

Alisa Martynova’s project Nowhere Near is a metaphorical tale about dreams and migration which examines African migration in Europe, particularly Italy, France, and the UK. Alisa decided to draw an imaginary path crossing three countries following a stereotypical vision of African migration, where Italy is presented as the arrival place, France as the “waiting for departure” place, and the UK as the “wished-for” place. Speaking about her intent for the project, she says ‘I started my project in Florence, Italy, where I live, when the topic of migration was discussed everywhere, from newspapers and television to street and social networks. Not all opinions that I heard seemed right to me. More than everything, migration was spoken about in terms of numbers and statistics, and rarely from a personal human point of view. People were widely exposed to crude and often violent images and texts. Nonetheless, this kind of approach is essential to inform people of the situation, and after some time it causes a deafening effect. It almost contributes to the construction of a barrier between the subject of the news and the readers. People get used to the stories and photographs and have no more empathetic response to them. In my project, I wanted to invert this and speak more about what it was to be a migrant on a personal level.’

Adopting a traditional documentary approach to a large project, she spent a lot of time initially without her camera, speaking to psychologists and people who worked with migrants, trying to understand how best she could represent through images and metaphors the feeling of being a migrant. This gave her the foundations from which she could start shooting the project which was undertaken in Italy, France and the UK from 2018-23. She adopts an almost poetical approach to her projects, drawing on historical and scientific studies to help develop metaphors in her images which are at times deliberately vague, giving the viewer sufficient individual freedom to interpret the work.

She says ‘I truly enjoyed meeting the people I portrayed for the project. Many of them had fascinating stories to tell and were incredibly interesting people to talk to. For instance, I met Clayton. He came to Italy from Cameroon to study and when he was looking for a job to sustain himself during his university studies, he asked himself a question: what is there in Florence that is missing that I can bring in? He noticed that there was no school of African dancing. So he taught himself how to teach dancing and opened a course in a local dance school. Now he has a lot of students, is very active on social networks and holds dance challenges. He often goes on to the streets of Florence and starts dancing, gathering crowds around him who join in. One of his greatest dreams is to teach Europeans to move as freely as Africans.’

She entered the RPS DPA 23 because ‘I wanted to bring my work to the UK to be seen. I believe the more people have access to this kind of documentary work the more it has a chance to bring change to society and also connect different migration stories across countries. Receiving this award is a very big accomplishment and recognition for me.’

31 Nowhere Near - Alisa Martynova
32 DPA 2023 - Open Category
Christ sitting in a room. He was born in Gabon and came to Italy with some of his relatives to study economy at the University. He is studying and works part-time as a guardian in a pharmacy.

The desert rose is a particular crystal that forms in arid and sandy conditions. Another name is “selenite rose” or “moonstone”. These rocks can be found in various countries around the world, including the African countries of Tunisia, Libya, Morocco and Algeria, which appear to be the countries from which some of the migrants come. Shape of the rose is quite mysterious and while I was rolling it in my hands I saw that from a certain point of view looks like an extraterrestrial, a meteorite.

33 Nowhere Near - Alisa Martynova
34 DPA 2023 - Open Category
Roena sitting in a room. She originally came to Italy from Gabon to study. I asked her to pose for me, I asked her to sit and move in a slight way so I could understand what pose may be natural to her. I noticed that she lifted her shoulders because they were stiff from sitting straight, I found it beautiful and I asked her to stay still in that posture.

Mahamadou is half-Senegalese, half-Gambian and fled his country as a refugee after taking part in a university demonstration. He lives and works around Florence, Italy, on a long-term contract. To take this picture I invited him for a walk in the woods. When I saw that aperture of the trees, I asked him to stand still among the trees.

35 Nowhere Near - Alisa Martynova

Leopard is one of the totem animals in the culture of some parts of the African continent, because of its discretion, the leopard is a shrewd figure in African legends: it has the reputation of erasing its tracks with its tail as it progresses. Some African kings wore hoods or cloaks in leopard fur, or covered the thrones with a leopard skin.

36 DPA 2023 - Open Category
37 Nowhere Near - Alisa Martynova
Bamba wearing his traditional African suit and the necklace figuring the shape of African continent that he asked his parents to send to him from Senegal. He now lives in one of the cities in Normandy, goes to school and plays football in a local team.
38 DPA 2023 - Open Category
Abou comes from Mali and now lives in one of the cities in Normandy.
39 Nowhere Near - Alisa Martynova
Rocks on the seaside of Normandy under the rain.

Marie, who came to Normandy a few years ago from Rwanda, on the coast of the English channel. “Marie values her native culture and has written two books about it, one in French and another in Rwandese. Marie told me about her childhood memories: growing up in a village surrounded by nature, her fondness for traditional ceremonies, and a special way of cooking sweet potatoes she prepared with her classmates after school. Marie regrets that people in Rwanda are slowly losing their traditions.

40 DPA 2023 - Open Category
41 Nowhere Near - Alisa Martynova

Blessing is originally from Nigeria, she came to Italy a few years ago, and works in Livorno, Italy, as a childminder. She is married and has a child of her own. She told me that she used to have strange and colourful dreams, like red rivers etc and some of my landscapes have come from those visions. I asked Blessing to come with me to the rocky seaside in Livorno and asked her to move slightly, so I could picture the movement of hers and the waves.

42 DPA 2023 - Open Category
43 Nowhere Near - Alisa Martynova
Rock formation resembling a human face in Tuscany, Italy.
44 DPA 2023 - Open Category
Steve Kevin (who prefers to use the name Clayton) dances at the seaside in Castiglioncello, Tuscany, Italy. He came to Italy from Cameroon to study, and is setting up a dance school to teach traditional African dance. I invited Clayton for a walk on the seaside and since he is a dancer, I asked to dance one of the traditional African dances to represent his story.

Kifoula in the woods near the coastline of the English channel. Kifoula came to Normandy, France, from Brazzaville after the civil war in Congo and currently performs in several theatre and dance companies in Normandy. “Kifoula told me that he was concerned that a lot of people who managed to get to Europe from African countries were losing, or even rejecting, their roots. He believes that founding a local community of fellow countrymen can help to preserve their native culture, and language.

45 Nowhere Near - Alisa Martynova

Open Category

Gerard Saitner

Portraits of artists of condition-related art

46 DPA 2023 - Open Category
Portrait of Johann Hauser

Over thirty years ago, Paris-based professional photographer Gerard Saitner was working on a project for his photography studies at Fachhochschule Dortmund in Germany. His research led him, via the paintings of August Walla, to the artists at Haus der Künstler (House of Artists) at Gugging in Austria.

The back story to the Haus der Künstler is a troubled one. The institute was created in 1889 as a psychiatric clinic near Vienna but it gained terrible notoriety during the second world war for Nazi atrocities. In the post-war years it became a centre where patients were encouraged to create art as a form of therapy. And in 1981 the Center for Art and Psychotherapy was created there.

Gerard explains further: ‘The Haus der Künstler stands out as a haven of genuine creativity. It has a family atmosphere which counteracts the damaging psychological effects of institutionalisation. Its domestic and creative environment stands in contrast to the institutional world surrounding it. The art of the Gugging artists is entirely uninfluenced by artistic examples and is only determined by the personality and mental disposition of every individual. Art Brut is created beyond any tradition and thus also beyond the history of art. The Haus der Künstler has been visited by famous people like the artist Arnulf Rainer and the director of the Vienna Burgtheater, Claus Peymann. In 1994 David Bowie and Brian Eno also visited the Gugging artists.’

Gerard spent twelve days in Gugging, initially observing the artists by acquainting himself with them. ‘I wanted them to have confidence and trust me’, he explains. ‘I was interested in a personal contact with every artist. My concern was to portray the artist in relationship with his art. I was not interested in creating a picture story in a short period of time.’

Clearly delighted to have his submission Portraits of Artists – of Condition-related Art selected as one of three winners of the Open category, Gerard says ‘I now have the chance to attract a wider audience with my pictures of the Gugging artists, especially as the portraits have never before been published in a catalogue.’

47 Portraits of artists of condition-related art - Gerard Saitner
All images ©Gerard Saitner 2023
48 DPA 2023 - Open Category
Portrait of Fritz Koller
Portraits of artists of condition-related art - Gerard Saitner Portrait of Franz Kammlander
50 DPA 2023 - Open Category
Portrait of Heinrich Reisenbauer
Portraits of artists of condition-related art - Gerard Saitner Portrait of Franz Kernbeis
52 DPA 2023 - Open Category
Portrait of Edmund Mach (Poet)
Portraits of artists of condition-related art - Gerard Saitner Portrait of Oswald Tschirtner
54 DPA 2023 - Open Category
Portrait of Johann Korec
Portraits of artists of condition-related art - Gerard Saitner Portrait of Ernst Herbeck (Poet)
56 DPA 2023 - Open Category
Portrait of Arnold Schmidt
Portraits of artists of condition-related art - Gerard Saitner Portrait of August Walla

Documentary Photography Awards


Student Category

58 Feature Title - Name
59 Feature Title - Name

Student Category

Julián Cabral


My uncle Carlos, called “Lito”, 53 years old, suffers from schizophrenia and severe maturation retardation, which seriously affects his mental health. Lito sticks his head out the door of a washing machine.

60 DPA 2023 - Student Category

Nineteen-year-old Argentinian Julián Cabral is a student and photographer based in Buenos Aires. He took up the camera five years ago, discovering the documentary genre a couple of years later, and likes to explore the relationship between humans and their environment. His successful submission is a study of his chronically schizophrenic Uncle Carlos, known by the nickname Lito and after which Julián’s project Lito was named.

‘My uncle Lito has suffered for many years from issues that seriously affect his mental health’, says Julián.’ Today, after several decades, the reality is critical, the days that he steps on the sidewalk are becoming less and less, his words are not the same as before, and the sadness grows. His only light in the morning is my mother, my two brothers, and me. We are the only reason why he decides to continue walking the path of madness, for which he swallows a dozen pills a week, deigns to get up, turn on the radio and change the shirt he has been wearing since last month.’

Julián’s work was taken in his uncle’s house and shot from December 2021 to September 2023, with an intention of revealing how a person with mental health problems lives. ‘One day he decided to tell me about his life, his mind, what a person with mental health problems lives, feels and thinks’, says Julián. ‘A part of society which in my country and throughout the world is forgotten and made invisible. It brings to light the difficult situation that this part of society goes through. The most important thing with this work is for me to be able to leave a memory of the unfair life that my uncle and my family have had to go through.’

His uncle’s condition, and Julián’s photographic response, has clearly had an impact on his family. ‘One day, one moment, one second that I remember every time I talk about my submission is when I took the photo with my whole family and my uncle separated by a wall. That image was very important to me, seeing my entire family helping me narrate the reality of my uncle. This work was a very personal, very close work, which tries to show not only my uncle’s life, but that of my family. That day my two brothers, my parents and I were all at his house. The light was perfect. I placed my brothers in their respective places, I told my parents where to look, I waited for Daisy (my uncle’s cat) to approach his feet, I breathed for a second and I shot the image. After that moment, I felt complete, fulfilled, as if I had been able to get something out of myself. I felt like I was telling exactly what I wanted to say. It’s something very simple but for me that moment meant a lot.’

All images ©Julián Cabral 2023



61 Lito - Julián Cabral

Lito is a very nice and kind person. When we were kids, he always gave us candy and some coins that he had left over from shopping. My mother Virginia always challenges him because he doesn’t eat enough and gives half of his dish to her best friend, the neighbour’s cat.

62 DPA 2023 - Student Category

My uncle “Lito” lives in Burzaco, on the outskirts of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Mid-Sunday my family and I put it on. Our visit is your only motivation in your day to day. Loneliness is an important word in Lito’s mind and life. Their suicide attempts, injuries and dangerous behaviour are often due to being unaccompanied. Despite the distance and the difficult situation of living, my family and I have never let go of Lito.

63 Lito - Julián Cabral

My uncle’s house tells a lot about his way of being. How a person with mental health problems lives, feels and thinks. A dark house, with just one open window, a dirty and broken floor, with damp, cracked and written walls. The rooms full of objects from the past, some even useless, old photos and lots of thrown clothes. Cockroaches and some rats play in the kitchen. In the bathroom the water does not work and In the garden the grass and the trees are uncut.

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Every time we visit Lito, my mother orders, cuts and stores her pills to last until the next visit. It’s a long and hard job that can only be done with a big heart. Without those drugs, my uncle may not speak for days, go into a major depression and even want to kill himself.

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My mom, in addition to ordering her pills, taking care of her hygiene and doing the weekly shopping, sorts and separates her money. He doesn’t differentiate and he doesn’t have a record of the tickets, that’s why my mother separates them by color and by the days she has to use them. Once a week an employee cleans his house, also orders food at home and pays for the car that takes him to the doctor. Although my mother separates the money for him, Lito loses it and spends it in a very short time.

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Lito’s health is in danger every day. He takes more than 15 pills on the daily, he doesn’t take a bath, he doesn’t brush his teeth, he doesn’t exercise and he eats fried food in every meal. Many times I see Lito making a mouthwash with salt to pass the pain.

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My family and I visit Lito twice a month. When we go to his house, the conditions in which he finds himself are terrible. His pants are wet, his beard is on the floor and his clothes are all dirty. Every time we go, my mother cuts off his beard, hair and nails. He doesn’t like it, and he doesn’t usually do it himself.

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My uncle Lito eats a fruit salad in the living room of his house.
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A cockroach walks on a plate in my uncle’s kitchen. He cleans the kitchen and washes the dishes only when we visit him. Every Sunday I go, it’s not uncommon to find more than ten roaches on the kitchen table, dirty plates and glasses that have been there for days.

My uncle and his room breathe memory, he always remembers and talks about his past, when he worked, his travels and his lost loves. She often weeps for her past, for her parents and her youth. Write down the walls and paste your most cherished memories on them. One of your favourite leaves is this corner of your room.

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Today Lito sleeps in my grandparents’ room, but his room from the past, breathes memory, keeps his notes, memories and most precious objects of his youth.

Virginia and Lito are siblings, born a year apart. Despite the disease and the problems that come with it, they have a great relationship. My mother loves him deeply. So, even though she’s on the other side of the fence, she’s never left him. My mother saved him many times from injuries and from his own death.

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Nineteen years ago, every time my family and I get out my Uncle’s house, he approaches the door, takes two steps forward, steps on the sidewalk and stretches out his hand to shake it, tearfully, until the last second he sees our car drive away.

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The main wall of my Uncle Lito’s house.

Student Category

Sefa Eyol The Costs of Freedom

Sefa Eyol is a Turkish-born freelance documentary photographer based in Shanghai, China, and is currently studying Photojournalism at Danish School of Media and Journalism. His work focuses on long-term photography essays examining social issues, and geographical, physical and spiritual isolation themes. His is most interested in the relationship between human beings and the environment. His project The Costs of Freedom was shot in Ukraine over a four-month period from April to July 2022.

He is succinct when describing both his intent and personal experience shooting the project: ‘I wanted to document the devastating consequences of the war and the struggle of the Ukrainian people for their freedom since the beginning of the war. During my stay in Ukraine, I witnessed many incredible stories and events. The one that impressed me the most was in the villages on the front line, where people who had lost their homes and stayed in shelters for months shared with us the food they still had after all this pain.’

Creating the submission in a dangerous warzone clearly had a profound effect on him: ‘I think I gained a lot of experience both as a photographer and as a person.’

All images ©Sefa Eyol 2023

www.instagram.com/eyolsefa sefaeyol.com

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The funeral of Ukraine soldier Krupa Igor Stepanovych, 42, who was killed in an attack in Lugansk on April 20. Igor has 2 children, Marta is 10 years old and Nazar is 8 years old, they were there to say goodbye to their father.

Sergey, 62, after the Russian attack on Andriivka, he found his house completely destroyed. Sergey was working as a liquidator in Chernobyl and had built his house with money he had saved over the years. Sergey’s wife died 3 years ago from cancer. He lives in his car with a few belongings he took with him and waits for the Ukrainian Government to help.

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Car cemetery, outskirts of Irpin.

Maria and her dog, Maria, were working as graphic designers before the war. She did not leave her country after losing her job and is voluntarily participating in military training.

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The funeral of Ukraine soldier Gozalo Yaroslav, who was killed in an attack in Donbas.

Hundreds of neighbours in the village where he lived were there to do their last duty for him. Yaroslav was seriously injured in the attack in 2014. With the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he did not hesitate to defend his country again.

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Destroyed bridge which one connected Kyiv city and the town of Irpin.
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Sunday prayers in an Orthodox church in Lviv. Air raid alarms can be heard during the ceremony.
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The funeral of Ukraine soldier Krupa Igor Stepanovych, 42. Igor has 2 children Marta is 10 years old and Nazar is 8 years old, they were there


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to say goodbye to their father.
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Grandmother Maria, along with her husband, daughter-in-law and 2-year-old granddaughter, lived in the shelter for a month. Russians controlled the Ukrainian village of Andriivka for more than 2 months, in May the Ukrainian army regained control.
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In a cloudy late afternoon, cemetery workers from Starychi village.

Student Category

Tamsyn Warde On These Magic Shores

This image was made during the Covid-19 pandemic during the strictest lockdown rules. These sisters were playing in their garden and moved to the pavement when their parents went indoors. Playing in the street wasn’t permitted to keep people separated. The girls were frustrated by having to play in the garden and sneaked onto the street, they were climbing their wall and decided to climb onto my car. Their mother then appeared and they were hurried indoors!

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Based in Winchester, Hampshire, in Southern England, Tamsyn Warde is currently studying for her MA in Photography on the highly regarded course at Falmouth University. Her successful submission On These Magic Shores was made in her home county and remains a work in progress which she started a couple of years ago.

‘Most of us have memories of the games that we played as children’, she explains. ‘You will often hear the romantic recall of days gone by when children played freely in the street. This is reflected in the images made during the 20th century which feature children playing outdoors in a time before digital gaming and the implications of pictorial consent. On These Magic Shores is a project exploring the spaces in which children play now. I’m interested in how play has changed as we move forward, particularly after the pandemic. It’s not unusual to move through urban spaces with no sign of how or where children are playing. Green spaces can be eerily quiet where previously groups of kids would hang out. Playgrounds created for children are numerous and designed by adults to appeal to their imaginations and enhance their physical, psychological, and social development. Play spaces are created in shopping centres, sports centres, and motorway service stations all as an aid to entertain children so that adults can go about their business.’

She is clearly fascinated by the way that children’s minds can run wild in their fantasy worlds. Not only is she capturing their imaginations on fire, she is also triggering memories of her own childhood and inviting the viewer to do the same. ‘My project is a snapshot of how children are playing today, an exploration of play indoors and outside, play organised by adults or children, children playing in groups or alone. I want to photograph children as they go about their lives and capture them in their own play worlds.’

Inevitably, sensitivity and permission are required to shoot subject matter like this. ‘It’s a challenge to photograph children on the street when they aren’t known to me, and rightly so. I must be very strict with my boundaries to protect the kids, and myself. I always get consent from parents and make sure that the kids are aware that I have permission before I make any images.’

On her selection in the Student category, Tamsyn says ‘Last year I was a winner in both The Portrait of Britain and The Portrait of Humanity awards. I’m now honoured to have been chosen (for DPA 23 competition) and I’m very much looking forward to working with my allocated mentor and furthering my practice.’

All images ©Tamsyn Warde 2023



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These boys are allowed to play freely in their front garden and the street. Their mother told me that they can’t afford mobile phones and she chooses to give her children the freedom she had whilst growing up. She trusts them to play in the road. The surrounding neighbourhood is very friendly and they ‘look after each other’.

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A day trip to the river. These kids are from the same neighbourhood and were allowed to go out on the river alone with inflatables. Two mothers sat in a nearby field chatting. The eldest child was 14 years, and the youngest 4 years old. I loved watching the group dynamic and how the older children looked after the younger ones.

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Navigating the river in a group, these children were looking for fish. They stopped for a while and splashed around.

The children in this image live in a small cul-de-sac. The space is small, but in the middle is an area of grass with a tree and a swing attached. The children are surrounded by parked cars as they play around them. They are crossing the road without an adult. I knock on a parent’s door to ask for permission to photograph the children. The parent explains that they feel worried about letting their children play near the road, but the children have learnt to cross sensibly because of the freedom

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Whilst out walking I discovered this playground in the middle of a settlement of houses. A road runs on one side of the space and there’s access from the back of the houses. I managed to find one parent to gain consent to photograph. She phoned the other parents to check if they were happy to for me to make the images. This took a while, and I was unable to photograph the game that I originally wanted to capture. When the girls saw my camera, they began ‘performing’.

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This image shows 2 brothers lying in the hedge in the front garden. I was struck by how comfortable they were in this play space. It was so familiar to them; you could see the body-shaped furrows in the hedge. The boy in the foreground is in a dream world and is obviously very comfortable. They didn’t seem to be self-conscious and didn’t mind who was passing by and saw them. It was almost like the hedge was their outdoor sofa!
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This boy plays freely in his street. This lamp post is outside his house. Here he is showing me and his younger brother how good he is at climbing. He’s very proud of his achievement.
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This is a photo of a child playing on her laptop in her bedroom. She likes to ‘hide away’ and play games on her computer alone, and with her friends. Her mother worries that she spends too much time on her screen and that it would be healthier for her to play outside with her friends in the fresh air. According to Online Gaming Statistics (2023) 91% of children aged 3-15 years play games on mainly consoles, PC’s and tablets.

I drove past these kids and realised that they were encouraging people to drive through the puddle to splash them. I had to go back and photograph the anticipation and excitement on their faces whilst they waited! We all got very wet. I love the spontaneity of this invented game.

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This garden wall sale was created by these girls who wanted to raise money to buy sweets. They ‘raided’ their houses to find objects to sell. Here they are selling a woven headback to a little girl who was passing by with her parents.

This was a school leavers celebration in a local park. The parents were sitting together with picnics at one end. These girls went off on their own and found a shade so that they could view a TicTok video. The little girl was a younger sister tagging along.

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This little boy took his socks off so he could try to climb the lamp post outside his house. This is a moment where his big brother was shouting at him behind me.
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These boys had found a pallet in the river in a local park. They were using it as a boat. In the summer many young teens use this park as a play area. They are old enough to be unsupervised by adults.
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This girl and her friends had been playing ‘sleepover’ on a climbing area in a playground. They had dragged their bedding from their nearby houses to create a bedroom. Here she is dragging her bedding home when it started to rain.

Documentary Photography Awards

2023 RPS Member Category

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RPS Member Category

Ruth Toda-Nation

Love is a Life Story

Ruth Toda-Nation’s successful submission Love is a Life Story is a series of black and white photographs documenting the friendship between two nonagenarians: John, her father and his friend Mary. This highly personal project intimately chronicles the everyday life and challenges faced as they navigated the various, and often confused, Covid-19 lockdown regulations whilst living in a sheltered retirement community in Newport Pagnell, near Milton Keynes in England.

Ruth explains the intent of her project, which started in the early stages of the Covid pandemic in 2020: ‘At the time, older people were seen as expendable and the UK government’s decision to send the “untested” back to care homes resulted in thousands of excess deaths. This apparent disregard for our eldest citizens prompted me to document what I was witnessing daily, not only as a daughter and carer to my father but also as a photographer. John and Mary’s experience epitomised everything that I felt was unjust about the treatment of our eldest citizens. My father was already suffering isolation and loneliness when Covid restrictions forced him deeper into despair. It was a violation of their human rights, their right to life, to health and to non-discrimination and it called into question Britain’s failing care system. Mary and John had dedicated their lives to helping others, John as a Christian minister and Mary as an NHS nurse.’

Tragically in December 2021, Mary was moved into a full-time care home and passed away alone, unable to have visitors except behind glass. ‘She died believing that she had been locked away and imprisoned’, explains Ruth, ‘so Love is a Life Story is dedicated to Mary and is a testament to the importance of friendship and faith, especially in the face of adversity. I wish Mary was here to see the work and see herself exhibited. She loved being photographed, and through all the difficulties and bleakness we still managed to find joy and fabulousness as we made this work together.’

All images ©Ruth Toda-Nation 2023



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John (92) and Mary (96) neighbours at no 19 and no 20.

Mary was from Jarrow and always called me ‘pet’ she was upset that I now couldn’t go in for a cuppa but I could stand at the patio door and talk to her and my father. Mary and John drank many cups of tea together. It is impossible to sit hour after hour totally alone within your four walls and as my father said ‘ I’d rather die of the virus than be in total isolation’. The garden and patio doors became the gateways to companionship and freedom.

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Dad was rushed to the hospital after a fall.

Humans are at their best when they care for others. John is finally discharged and Mary and John are ecstatic to be reunited. He was deposited outside his facility with no key and no care plan. Mary at 96 stepped in. The older nurses are tough and resourceful and Mary is particularly so.

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‘Church doors have never been locked against us as they have been over the last months’ dad mentions this often. Church provides a lifeline for many and in normal times Mary and John walk up to the church every week. Some freedoms were restored for a while. As I took this photograph I was reminded of the waiting room of life, the transience of our journey and the importance of community and spiritual sustenance.

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Crosswords, bibles and newspapers replaced social interaction. Mary and John both did their crosswords daily. As I took Mary’s portrait she said ‘I don’t know what it’s all going to be, but I know it’s going to be something, something important’. She never fully understood the pandemic but she knew that what she was experiencing was an important story to tell.

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On the way to cafe Latte. The local caff opened its doors as restrictions eased again. People on the streets waved at John and Mary as they were so relieved to see older folk again. Mary and John were well know in the local community and it was a very joyous occasion to be out on the streets again.

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Mary and John were so happy to be at the caff after months of being locked in.

Holding on to memories that she didn’t want to let slip away, Mary often recounted her life story. She talked of her life fondly. Each wistful memory a precious gem stone, a sign post reflecting her existence and giving her a sense of continuity in the turbulent times. ‘David was in the Navy, he first saw me and said that’s the girl I’m going to marry. In those days we didn’t hang about; decisions were made, life was precarious.’

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Mary’s memory became so bad that she was moved into a full care home. John and Mary were finally able to meet, but in a pod with glass between them. The Celts believed that the visible and invisible worlds were one and for them certain places were known as ‘thin places’ the invisible membrane is a kind of spiritual ozone layer. I could feel the walls growing thin. This was the last time we saw Mary. Her time had come to move beyond the veil.

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Mary couldn’t understand why she had to be locked away and couldn’t join her friend John on the outside. She asked often what she had done wrong to be locked up and deserving of prison. It was really difficult to say goodbye.

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Mary’s small coffin was covered in sunflowers. Sunflowers resemble the sun and are associated with spiritual knowledge and the desire to seek light and truth. In parting as we sang you are my sunshine the yellow glow of the flowers reminded me of the importance of friendship caring and love, which is what Mary gave to the world and gave to my dad.

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Dad wandered around like a lost soul after he lost Mary.
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There’s something incredibly sad when all that is left is someone’s empty room. Looking through her window its like a dream, a distant memory.
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Dad walks back to his flat alone. The corridor has lost its joy but as dad reminded me. ‘My life goes on, the story hasn’t ended yet!’

RPS Member Category

Brian Morgan FRPS No Safety Net

Yuma and Nicci: Redcar 2019.

The Counting House (Box Office). Vulnerability is a feature of every aspect of Circus Life. However, the vulnerability most feared in any travelling circus is its inability -for any reason - to put on a show. Everyone in a travelling circus knows survival depends upon one simple and ruthless mathematical formula: no show = no money, no money = no food, no safety net. Never was a metaphor made more profound than through the vicissitudes of the Pandemic.

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A deep personal story also resonates throughout the submission of writer, professional photographer, and doctoral researcher Brian Morgan. No Safety Net is part of a larger body of work that is a pictorial and narrative account of five years Brian spent journeying at various times with a small family-based travelling circus community as it traversed the North of England and Scotland from 2018-2023.

As the title suggests, Brian’s work is a play on words about circus life, but it is also a narrative about his own personal circumstances. ‘The title emerged quickly as a metaphor for the precarious material and emotional existence lived out daily by the circus troupe’, Brian explains. ‘A metaphor, therefore, for the vulnerability of people and strength of purpose needed to survive in a unique and challenging world. A metaphor, too, for my own vulnerability brought on by personal trauma and life-changing illness, and the emotional strength I drew from their presence as I journeyed with them at various times for over five years.’

He was clearly enthralled by the troupe, becoming adopted as he, figuratively speaking, ran away with the circus. He takes up the story of his submission: ‘It begins with a journey after the show has finished, through the hinterland of the real, behind the scenes, world of circus – no safety net, vulnerable, astringently stripped of its make-up, a world I only ever perceived in black and white. How else to reflect a place at once antithetical to the beguiling and spectral world of the “big top”? What better device for exposing the stark binary choices forced upon the group as they edged their way towards safety along a tightrope – stretched out before them by the forces of fate – between survival and oblivion during the worst of the Covid pandemic? I wanted to capture the egalitarian nature of circus: the aesthetic and grotesque, the achingly beautiful, the lonely, claustrophobic, humorous and heartbreakingly sad manifestations of circus life, freed of the influence and hierarchies created by colour.’

The time he spent with the circus, a literal and metaphoric journey, gave him the comforting conditions in which he could address his personal loss and grief. ‘Telling their story through my photography is the only way I know of repaying the debt I owe Olympia (the ring mistress), the Kirilova Family and Big Kid Circus. For they taught me, by their example, the meaning of hope, illuminating with a kindly light the darkest recesses of depression and despair.’

All images ©Brian Morgan 2023

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Julia and Crew: Glasgow 2023.

A Role Model for women and girls across the World, Billi’s daughter Julia Kirilova, M.A., Events Manager, Circus Visionary, Performer, Electrician, Nurse, Social Worker, Confessor, Steeplejack, Roughneck, someone who never asks anyone to do anything she does not do herself, leads the Sisyphean task associated with the logistics of creating, disassembling, moving, and re-creating again in another town, another field, a community the size of a small village.

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Serge and Silvio: Morecambe 2020.

‘Head Bloodied but Unbowed’: The speed at which Covid first spread caught the Circus off-guard and quarantined on a site in the seaside town of Morecambe. Drained of its lifeblood audience, the Circus rapidly went into virtual cardiac arrest. As freelance performers and precluded from State Aid, they became dependent on the alms of the local community: Charity, the safety net of last resort. But signs of self-reliance and resilience were everywhere.

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Anastasia and Schtorm: Whitburn 2021.

Incongruity is everywhere in the Circus, so I fought to resist using the sofa for one of those ‘beautiful girl in disconsonant place’ pictures. It just seemed too contrived. But Anastasia wanted her photo taken. By chance, so too did Schtorm, Julie’s pet and Circus guard dog, who appeared from nowhere. No humans or animals were harmed in the making of this spontaneous and wholly uncontrived photograph.

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‘Babuska’: Ashington 2023.

Yulia Ivanova Andreeva. ‘Babuska’ to all who know and love her. Queen Mother (to Billi the Circus Owner), Grandmother to Julia. One-time Circus Artiste, Gymnast, philosopher and art lover. The hand-painted Munch was a gift from a young art student. A photographer of considerable skill, she handled my 1950’s Mercury (which she now owns!) like a pro. A mother figure to all, Yulia has seen too much of life to take it seriously … just don’t mess with her.

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Julia and Billi: Glasgow Dec 2019.

‘Sounds like a Plan’: The table is etched with the lyrics of contemporary songs. Every year, at the same time, final decisions are made as to which of the Acts will be asked to return for another season. The future of people’s lives and livelihoods can depend on the decisions made here. Some decisions are easy, but most are not. Ironically, the song ‘Sounds like a Plan’ speaks of the need to live in the moment and let the future take care of itself.

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Anastasia: Lanark 2020.

Anastasia warms up in the confines of her ‘new’ caravan before the season’s final show. Close by lies the burnt-out shell of her previous ‘home’ completely destroyed by fire in less than a minute, just two days previously, along with every vestige of her material life. She was lucky to escape with her life, and with the Troupe’s help, the rebuilding process began the next day. Another synoptic metaphor - as if needed - of the vulnerability and strength of Circus.

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Italo: Barnsley 2019.

Sagacious as any Shakespearian Fool and with the physique of a top-class athlete, Italo is the only Artiste to have remained with the Circus for all the time I have known them. His clown character is the alter ego of an intensely cerebral and contemplative persona. Italo hasn’t seen his family in Chile since he joined the Circus in 2018. ‘Circus is my home now,’ he says.

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Amalia and Olympia. Barnsley. 2018.

Alpha and Omega: It was Olympia, the Ring Mistress who - like an annunciating Angel in a Tintoretto painting - first brought the visceral and vital otherworld of Circus crashing through the grief-constructed walls of my life. Until then, I had never seen a Circus. Afterwards, I was blind to anything else. My wife and I are Godparents to Olympia’s new baby. Amalia (pictured) was the first smiling face to welcome me into the Circus. When Olympia goes, I go.

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Mikial and Yami South Shields 2019.

A crowded Big Top in summer can generate desert-like temperatures. Warm air condenses as it reaches the tent roof and falls as light rain onto the stage, making it perilously slippery. Mikial and Yami perform on roller skates; Yami spins vigorously whilst tethered to Mikial’s neck. They contemplate the safety of performing again following an earlier fall. The risk is real, but the show must go on, and moments later, they are back on stage. Again, they fall.

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Myrelis, Milli & Yasi. Sheffield 2021.

Their tiny caravan has been home for nine months. In such a compressed space, camaraderie is quickly displaced by claustrophobia. A reason often cited for the failure of U.K.-based artistes to succeed in U.K.-based Travelling Circuses is their inability to adapt to such conditions. The resilience of foreign Artistes whose lives at home are in every way more restricted and claustrophobic is - out of necessity - much stronger than their U.K. counterparts.

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Myrelis and Pepe: Blaydon, 2021.

‘And the Waters Receded’ (Genesis.7. 11. 24). Whenever possible on soft ground, a ‘rain moat’ is dug to channel water away from the Big Top. But not this time. Power lines became submerged, and with the exponential risk, the Artistes were refusing to perform. It was the only time I ever saw a fissure appear in the rock-solid foundations of the Troupe. Pepe is doing his best to intervene practically, if not divinely, as the show goes on.

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Anastasia: Sheffield 2022.

A disused industrial site, another flooded Big Top. The kaleidoscopic mix of water, Diesel oil and green moss looked almost verdant. The performance had to end mid-show due to revised COVID regulations. I perceived in Nastia’s reflected gaze the water nymph Rusalka, the heroine of Dvorak’s’ Opera and its Libretto, a tale of poisoned water, a verdant, vibrant world being sucked of its lifeblood and a shift from abundance to sadness, decay and loss in the World.

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Myrelis and Amalia: Glasgow 2019.

Children are everywhere and nowhere in a family-run Circus like this. Circus provides a world rich in unique experiences for children. However, an itinerant lifestyle that offers little opportunity for social interaction with same-age peers or other adults can sometimes make it difficult for children to form the kind of meaningful attachments that young people thrive upon. It’s an ever-present dichotomy both for Circus parents and would-be parents.

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Valeria: Ashington 2022.

Valeria peaks through a hole in the stage curtain. As the threat of COVID recedes, the audiences flood back. The same as last year, she is dressed as a marionette. Even amid the metaphor-rich environment of Circus, I cannot help but use a metaphoric device to compare everything she represented to me then and now. No longer an ‘object’ controlled by circumstance, she (they) are now ‘actors’ again, in control of their own destiny, their reward for never giving up hope.

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RPS Member Category

Michael Knapstein

Midwest Memoir

Midwest Memoir is part of a larger project started in 2010 which documents classic aspects of rural America with images made in the upper midwest of the United States. Most are taken within 100 miles of the home of semi-professional photographer Michael Knapstein in Middleton, Wisconsin, although he also shot work further afield in Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, and South Dakota.

‘My goal was to capture some of the things about the American Midwest that I will miss the most once they are gone’, says Michael. ‘Some of these are actual places – the vernacular landscape, whilst others are visuals that trigger a related feeling –a collective memory, if you will. Indeed, several of the buildings I photographed for this series have already been torn down. And other aspects of traditional midwest life continue to disappear around me. I know that such changes are inevitable, but I wanted to do my best to make sure they are captured and remembered. And in some cases the images serve as symbols for the strength and resilience of the American Midwest and its peoples.’

A self-taught photographer of over fifty years, such is the size of his project that Michael has begun to break the work up into smaller sub-groups. One of these sub-groups, called Fabric, was also shortlisted in the DPA 23 competition. And you may well have seen Michael’s work before, as another image, After the Storm was one of two photographs he had in the 163rd International Photography Exhibition, winning the Visitor Favourite Award. His midwest project remains ongoing, so we may well see more of his work in future: ‘I have been aware of the RPS for many years and hold it in very high regard. I am proud to have participated in the RPS International Print Exhibition four times. But this was the first year that I became aware of the Documentary Photography Awards, and I hope to enter again!’

All images ©Michael Knapstein 2023

www.instagram.com/mknapstein www.knapsteinphotography.com

138 DPA 2023 - RPS Member Category
139 Midwest Memoir - Michael Knapstein
After the Storm -- Pleasant Springs, Wisconsin, USA
140 DPA 2023 - RPS Member Category
Linda’s Farm -- Verona, Wisconsin, USA
141 Midwest Memoir - Michael Knapstein
Clothesline -- Reedsburg, Wisconsin, USA
142 DPA 2023 - RPS Member Category
Another Swing of Time -- Daleyville, Wisconsin, USA
143 Midwest Memoir - Michael Knapstein
Window Box -- Door County, Wisconsin, USA
144 DPA 2023 - RPS Member Category
Front Porch -- Wild Rose, Wisconsin, USA
145 Midwest Memoir - Michael Knapstein
State Fair -- West Allis, Wisconsin, USA
146 DPA 2023 - RPS Member Category
Late for Church -- Murdo, South Dakota, USA
147 Midwest Memoir - Michael Knapstein
Higher Calling -- Springdale, Wisconsin, USA
148 DPA 2023 - RPS Member Category
Prairie Church -- Arlington, Wisconsin, USA
149 Midwest Memoir - Michael Knapstein
Farmhouse Swing -- Leland, Wisconsin, USA
150 DPA 2023 - RPS Member Category
Canal Seed & Feed -- Portage, Wisconsin, USA
151 Midwest Memoir - Michael Knapstein
First and Third -- New Glarus, Wisconsin, USA
152 DPA 2023 - RPS Member Category
Dinner Time -- Verona, Wisconsin, USA
153 Midwest Memoir - Michael Knapstein
Mini Donuts -- Middleton, Wisconsin, USA

RPS Documentary Events

All upcoming RPS Documentary Events can be found on our events page.

Our Engagement Talks series, Documentary Events and Exhibitions:

Engagement Talk - Phil Penman - Street - 18 January 2024 events.rps.org/en/engagement-talk-phil-penman-street

British-born, New York-based photographer Phil Penman has documented the ever-changing scene of New York City’s streets for more than 25 years. He was recently named among the “52 Most Influential Street Photographers,” alongside such legends as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Sebastião Salgado, Diane Arbus, and Garry Winogrand. Penman’s first book, Street, published in 2019, became a best-seller and was featured at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Engagement Talk - Alicia Bruce - I Burn But I Am Not Consumed29 February 2024


Alicia Bruce is an award-winning, working-class photographer, community collaborator, educator, and activist based in Scotland. Her photography sits between documentary and staged imagery focusing on communities, environments and human rights. Alicia Bruce is a member of the collective Women Photograph. I Burn But I Am Not Consumed brings together photographs and an archive collated by photographer Alicia Bruce and the residents of Menie, Scotland. The project documents sixteen years of Donald Trump’s impact on the coastal Scottish community from 2006 until present day.

Arena Seminar2024 - 22-24 March 2024 - Riviera Hotel, Bournemouth events.rps.org/en/arena-seminar-2024

Arena Seminar 2024 will take place on the weekend 22nd to 24th March at the Riviera Hotel in Bournemouth. The seminar has been running for over 30 years and has an enthusiastic following of photographers working in all genres. This may be of particular interest to Documentary members.

Engagement Talk - Roland Ramanan - Dominoes - 11 April 2024 events.rps.org/en/engagement-talk-roland-ramanan-dominoes

Dominoes is the first photobook by Roland Ramanan. It is an intimate portrayal of joy, addiction, pain and hope in a community centred around a unique corner of London’s East End over a period of ten years. This talk will explore the themes behind the work and how they relate to issues of ethics and participation in documentary practice.

events.rps.org - Documentary

RPS Documentary Photography Awards 2023 - Exhibitions

In 2024 we will take the DPA 2023 Exhibition on Tour in the UK. The exhibition will combine curated images from all nine Awardees. Dates will appear in the Events page our current plans are (subject to confirmation):

- London Nunnery Gallery Bow 06-20 May

- Inverness Eden Centre 01-27 June

- Stirling The Stables Gallery 01-31 July

- North Wales Oriel Colwyn 03-30 August

- Newcastle Newcastle Arts Centre 05-30 September

- Oxford St. John’s College 07-28 October

- Bristol RPS House

Group Meetings:

to be confirmed late 2024

As well as centrally organised events, our Regional Groups put on local events. These include talks and presentations, local workshops or exhibitions of members work, group projects, visits and photo walks, feedback and critique sessions and online Zoom meetings. We currently have Groups in:

Northern, Yorkshire, East Anglia, Thames Valley, Southern, South East, and joint groups with Contemporary in Scotland, Central and North West.

Daniel Meadows Book of the Road

On The Bookshelf
Daniel Meadows - Book of the Road

Reviewed by Nick Hodgson FRPS

For readers of a certain age, 1974 may well bring back memories of flared jeans, platform heels and ABBA winning Eurovision. And whilst these are distant memories, on opening Daniel Meadows’ Book of the Road we are immediately transported back to this period, a kind of interregnum between post-Swinging Sixties pre-Thatcherite Britain struggling along in the face of rampant inflation, petrol rationing, power cuts, the three-day week and two general elections. Change was in the air, not all of it good, and it was in many ways an uneasy time for the nation - but ideal conditions for a documentary photographer to respond to.

Daniel Meadows’ approach was highly original and unconventional, yielding remarkable results at the time, whilst today providing us with an extraordinary window into a yester world. His book is also a relevant and informative body of work for social historians and younger generations of photography lovers.

His idea was simple enough – to create a mobile photographic studio in which he could travel the country for over a year and record people’s stories, process the film in the onboard makeshift darkroom and hand a free print to the sitter the very next day. Mobility came in the form of a double-decker bus, partly funded by the Arts Council and six regional arts associations for which Meadows then provided material for local exhibitions. The ‘Free Photographic Omnibus’ as he named it was born. From Wiltshire to Tyneside, he drove 10,000 miles, photographed 958 people, heard individual stories of both woe and positivity, and experienced remarkable acts of kindness from ordinary folk (and also, as it turned out, Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant).

Once completed, Meadows’ work was exhibited at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts alongside a book, Living Like This (Arrow, 1975). 25 years later, a touring exhibition (how appropriate) of the images was shown at the then National Museum of Photography in Bradford and the Shoreditch Biennale. This prompted Meadows to try and find the very people he had photographed in Southampton, Hartlepool and Barrow-in-Furness. With the help of the local newspapers which ran ‘where are they now?’ articles to encourage people to step forward, he was able to meet up again with many of his sitters, record their stories and re-shoot them for what then turned into a book called The Bus (Harvill Press, 2001). Book of the Road brings these images together, with six gatefold sections of ‘then and now’ images and updates on how these lives have panned out.

Daniel Meadows -
of the Road

The results are remarkable. He occasionally berates himself for not achieving the technical results he wished for. But his compositional eye and attention to detail of both the sitters (portraiture) and the events he attended (reportage including the World Marbles Championships, a Yard-of-Ale contest, Haafnet fishermen in the Solway Firth, and a medieval banquet) shines a warm and empathetic light on the British people and the curious eccentricities of regional cultures. Revisiting the locations in the late 90’s, he wrestled with what he describes as the central dilemma for all documentarists: are they ‘predator or collaborator’? On balance, with Book of the Road it’s the latter.

At 220 pages, with 150 monochrome images, the book is interspersed with fascinating diary entries, many of which have been transcribed from cassette tapes he recorded on the road. He is an accomplished wordsmith, as there is a visceral feel to his emotional state throughout the project. Sometimes lonely, other times meeting people who deeply touch his life through their own acts of generosity – like the café owner who gives him a £5 note (a lot of money in 1974!) simply because he loves what Meadows is doing. Given the socio-economic status of many of his subjects, there might have been the perception by some that Meadows was ‘posh’ (he was brought up on the estate of Dumbleton Hall in the north Cotswolds, coincidentally the family home of photographer Joan Leigh-Fermor). But his dislike of boarding school, and subsequent antidote in the form of Manchester Polytechnic with fellow photography students such as Brian Griffin and Martin Parr, allowed him in his words to ‘give people half a chance … and they’ll show you the beauty of the human soul’. He decided to work ‘with people, not doing media to them’.

The result is that Book of the Road is up there as one of the most important post-war British socio-documentary photography books. It accompanies the excellent exhibition currently in the downstairs gallery at the Centre for British Photography in central London, which is well worth a visit. Whilst you are there, thumb through the copy of the 1967 Reader’s Digest AA Book of the Road to contextualise the physical format of Book of the Road - the attention to detail of which is a great credit to the thoughtful work of designer Tom Booth Woodger and Bluecoat Press.

All Images ©Daniel Meadows

Book of the Road by Daniel Meadows is published by Bluecoat Press, 2023.

£45.00 from bluecoatpress.co.uk/product/book-of-the-road

Daniel Meadows - Book of the Road
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The Documentary Group Online

The documentary group has a presence on the following platforms, come and join in the conversation. We understand that not everyone has a social media profile or wants to create one. That’s why all our profiles are public and can be viewed by everyone, no matter whether you have an account or not. This means you will be able to view all our posts and book on to ticketed events. Checking our RPS page and searching for events is still a good way to keep informed with all that is happening in the Documentary group. If you have any questions you can always e-mail us – all our contact details are listed there.


Facebook Page - facebook.com/rpsdocumentary

Our public Facebook page is new, but it already highlights the successful projects that entered our Documentary Photographer of the Year competition. You can also find albums for the Bi-monthly Competition winners and short texts from our Journal The Decisive Moment (DM) there – these updates are designed to be easy to read on a phone screen that also provides you with the link to the full articles.

Facebook Group - facebook.com/groups/RPSDVJ

We also have a closed group Facebook page, exclusively for our members. If you want to join us there, you can share your pictures with us, ask for advice, and engage with our online community.



Instagram is an image-based social media platform, so think of our profile as of an online gallery. If you follow us there, you can see pictures from our competition winners, DM contributors and members along with invitations to events and images from these occasions. Instagram is the place where we want to promote the work of our group and our members to the wider public and encourage them to follow and engage with our projects.


Royal Photographic Society - Documentary Group

Documentary Group members run an active group on Flickr with plenty of images and the opportunity to discuss them with the group.




X / Twitter


Our X / Twitter page is for short important updates such as events, exhibitions, call for entries or other announcements. If you do not have much time for scrolling on social media but still want to be in on the action, we recommend you to follow us there. We promise we’ll be short and concise.


Issuu.com - Documentary Group, Royal Photographic Society

The Decisive Moment is published on the Issuu platform where you can read each edition online or download pdfs to read offline. Please follow the Documentary Group in Issuu and use the buttons to like and share your favourite editions or individual features - it really helps support the Documentary Group.



The Documentary Special Interest Group has a section on The Royal Photographic Society website. Here you can learn more about the group, hear about recent news and future events and access an increasing number of documentary photography resources.


Documentary photography as a practice spans a range of approaches, so makes precise definition difficult. Taken literally, all forms of photography can be described as documentary, in that they document someone, something or some place. As a working definition, the Documentary Group uses the following:

“Documentary photography communicates a clear narrative through visual literacy. It can be applied to the photographic documentation of social, cultural, historical and political events. Documentary photographers’ work always has an intent; whether that is to represent daily life, explore a specific subject, deepen our thinking, or influence our opinions.”


Facebook Flickr Instagram X / Twitter

Members form a dynamic and diverse group of photographers globally who share a common interest in documentary and street photography.

We welcome photographers of all skill levels and offer members a diverse programme of workshops, photoshoots, longer-term projects, exhibitions, an online journal and newsletter and the RPS Documentary Photography Award (DPA).

Some longer-term collaborative projects are in the pipeline for the future. We have a active membership who participate in regional meetings, regular competitions and exchange ideas online through our social media groups.

The Documentary Group is always keen to expand its activities and relies on ideas and volunteer input from its members.

If you’re not a member come and join us. Find us on the RPS website at: rps.org/documentary

from Book of the Road published by Bluecoat Press - ©Daniel Meadows

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