Before we announce the winners, here are some entries that stood out

© Fabio Bucciarelli

We are down to the finalists for this year’s Focus on the Story Awards, which we will be announcing this week on our Facebook page. But first, we want to recognize the images that our jurors named as their individual favorites. That doesn’t mean these entries are among the finalists — some of them are not. However, each of them is special in their own right.

This selection of “judge’s choice” awards will be projected at the opening night of Focus on the Story 2019 in Washington, D.C., May 31.

Midhat Poturovic | Fighting for Inclusion

Midhat Poturovic tells the story of Ismail Zulfic, a boy born with no arms and a deformed foot. Poturovic spent two years photographing Ismail, whose inspiring story raises awareness about the challenges that disabled people overcome in a society that often excludes them. This is one of the eight images he submitted. Poturovic is a photojournalist based in Sarajevo. You can see his full two-year project on his website.

John Christopher Anderson | Founder Momenta Workshops: “There are a pair of ruts where we, as visual journalists, can find ourselves if we adhere too stringently to the ideal of objectivity and rely on ‘otherness’ to maintain our subject distance in service to the former. We need to keep reminding ourselves that our chief role is to bear witness to authentic human experience, validating it with the products of our observation, and sharing it with others. Seeing through the eyes of a photographer who takes pains to humble themselves to the experience and emotions of their subjects greatly deepens the connection the audience has to their narratives. Furthermore, you don’t have to travel halfway around the world, in search of pain and grit in a foreign land, to exemplify value in human experience. Sometimes, the most beautiful moments are near to us, only requiring we patiently open our hearts and minds, taking the effort to travel with another human long enough to become a companion to their humanity. This is one of those moments.”

Amber Terranova | Educator with Magnum Photos: “Midhat’s photo series about Ismail immediately caught my eye, raising my curiosity about this little boy’s life and the challenges he faces. The images show Ismail as an active and energetic young boy interacting with friends, family, playing sports, swimming and doing assignments in school. The photo essay tells a larger story about the importance of a support network for people with disabilities. The people behind the scenes: parents, siblings, and coaches. The influence of community in Ismail’s life come across quite quickly in the photos, and this story represents many like it across the globe where people with disabilities face a variety of challenges in the way they are treated. I found Ismail’s spirit and determination unwavering in the series and the photos reflect that in a compelling way.”

Carmen Sayago | Birds of Pollution

Carmen Sayago’s series examines the lives of several women living with multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome, a debilitating condition that forces them to live in seclusion in order to avoid the every-day chemicals and pollution that can kill them. Sayago is a documentary photographer based in Madrid, Spain. You can learn more about her project on her website.

Xyza Cruz Bacani | Documentary Photographer: “One of the documentary projects that I wish I could have done. It offers a glimpse to a world that we all don’t have access to. Aside from the compelling visuals, I appreciate that the author takes time to know the people she is photographing. It shows in her words, by telling us their names, fears and hopes. I felt that as a viewer, I know who they are and that made them relatable.”

Fabio Bucciarelli | The Border Wall

Migrants fleeing violence in Central America arrive in Tijuana, Mexico  to often find themselves in situations as bad as the ones they left. Bucciarelli’s series shows the human toll of President Trump’s efforts to block migrants from seeking asylum in the U.S. Bucciarelli is a documentary photographer based in Turin, Italy. His full project, which includes the images he submitted to the Focus on the Story Awards, can be seen on his website.

Molly Roberts | Senior Editor, National Geographic Magazine: “This image from the Border series by Fabio Bucciarelli really makes an impact. He captured a powerful and authentic moment, which shows the combination of hope, fear and desperation that the migrant families leaving Honduras endure. This captured moment helps to humanizes the migrant crisis dilemma, and puts the viewer in the migrants shoes, momentarily.”

Susan Sterner | Director of New Media, Corcoran School of Arts & Design: “While I recognize there is a flood of powerful photojournalism, documentary work and art being completed along the U.S.-Mexico border and on immigration issues, I feel Mr. Bucciarelli created images that convey the sense of urgency and drive parents feel in oder to take on such a harrowing journey with young children. They do this because the alternative of staying in their hometowns is not really an alternative. Mr. Bucciarelli’s images are well composed and draw the viewer into the emotions and moments experienced by the families he photographed. The sequence flows well, gaining impact with each image. In addition, I appreciate that the strength of the project does not rely on hyper-dramatic toning.”

Marco Panzetti | Cotton Candy Seller

Marco Panzetti’s entry into the single image category captures a young boy selling candy at one of the busiest intersections in Kathmandu. Panzetti is an Italian freelance documentary photographer based in Barcelona, Spain. You can see more of his work on his website.

James Whitlow Delano | Documentary Photographer: “I like this somewhat whimsical image because there is so much information embedded in this almost peaceful image of complete South Asian chaos.  I think it perfectly represents the personal bubble all people immerse themselves into to endure the noise, dust, fumes and heat.  The viewer is drawn into this world that works so well for its understated simplicity, concealing the complexity of the viewer’s interaction with the man holding a stick strung with bags of cotton candy – pure sugar in an adrenaline environment.”

Alain Schroeder | Kid Jockeys

This image from Alain Schroeder, a winner in the inaugural Focus on the Story Awards, is from his series “Kid Jockeys,” a photo essay on the young boys in Sumbawa, Indonesia who compete in thrilling, and dangerous, bareback races. Schroeder is a Belgian photojournalist. You can see his full project on his website.

Carl Juste | Photojournalist at the Miami Herald: “This image is cinematic, plain and simple. It captures so many things at once while remaining singular to its universal truth: Life on this planet is hard for most, but somehow this still image speaks truth to this beautiful struggle.”