Oskar Barnack Newcomer Award Winner Andy Spyra

Andy Spyra is the winner of the Oskar Barnack Newcomer Award 2010 for his portfolio ‘Kashmir’. The international jury sought to find a series of photographs in which a photographer, under the age of 25 years old, perceives and documents the interaction between man and the environment with acute vision and contemporary style – creative, groundbreaking and unintrusive. This award carries on the tradition of Oskar Barnack, inventor of the Leica, whose photography of the floods in Wetzlar in 1920 is now considered the first reportage series shot with a 35 mm still frame camera. Here is an interview by Helen Todd, a Leica Internet Team member, with Andy Spyra on his winning series.

Q: What were you trying to capture and what approach did you take in this photo series?

A: It was the issue of the Kashmir-conflict that led me to seek another approach in photography – a more subjective and emotional one to not only show what’s actually happening on the ground but to also show how it feels like to live in such a place at this particular time. Although Kashmir is, for good reason, called “paradise on earth” it is also known as the “Valley of Tears.” My photographs are trying to communicate the latter term and how Kashmir came to this reputation.

I think particularily the photograph from the mourning-ceremony of the two raped and murdered girls in Shopian in southern Kashmir tells a lot about the place and it’s sad story, even without showing violence or the conflict in a direct way. It’s a quiet, more subtle image which evokes a lot of emotion. It doesn’t necessarily need a caption to communicate it’s meaning.

Q: Being in Kashmir, did you run into any difficulty taking photos for this series?

A: When I was shooting this and the other photographs I didn’t have to overcome any extraordinary obstacles, at least none that aren’t normal under the circumstances given this part of the world.  Once I was back home I got to understand that I underestimated the weight of the issue and the power of photography. This is the reason I’m currently faced with some diplomatic hurdles regarding India.

Q: What camera did you use?

A: The series was shot with a Canon 5D and later with a Nikon D 700, using the respective lenses from both brands. Unfortunately very unsexy, but at the same time very effective.

Q: What does winning the Oskar Barnack Newcomer Award mean to you?

A:  It’s obviously a great feeling to win this award, especially being in the company  of  other great and inspiring photographers that have won the award before me. Aside from the financial aspects, which will be a great support so that I can keep working on my current personal project in Bosnia,  it also raises my profile in the photographic community, serving a catalyst for increasing my contacts which is a great asset in the business.

Q: What role do you see photography in reportage series and documenting current events?

A: I believe that photography can play it’s part when it comes to raise awareness for an issue or social development. It’s the first step towards action and is therefore facing more and more repression from governments who don’t want certain things to be seen and communicated. Photography has the ability to reach people in a very direct way and with that it provides a visual matching part to non-visual and rational information. In this combination, documentary photography always was and will ever be a very important and powerful tool to create awareness and sometimes propell a change of mind.

Andy Spyra is a freelance photographer based in Hagen, Germany. After graduating from school in 2006, he traveled to Central America and South East Asia where he came in contact with photography for the first time. He worked as a freelance photographer at a local newspaper in his hometown before enrolling as student of photography at the Fachhochschule Hannover. He’s currently taking a year off to pursue personal projects in the Balkans and the Middle East. To learn more about Andy Spyra, please visit his website www.andyspyra.com.