2019 Focus on the Story Awards: Presenting the Single Image Winners

The winners in this year’s single image category of the 2019 Focus on the Story Awards come from different corners of the world, each with a very different approach to visual storytelling. Yet, as different as the winning images are stylistically, they are striking in what they have in common — an underlying tenderness that transcends the palpable pain contained in the scene. Whether it’s a father worrying about a son born with a congenital heart defect, the innocence of a young girl cradling a toy gun at her brother’s funeral wake, or a shared moment between a mother and her dying son, these are images that accomplish one of the greatest goals of visual storytelling — they make us feel.

We are honored to present this year’s single image winners. The overall prize is shared this year between Sandra Stokmans’ “Birth of Baby Kay” and Ezra Acayan’s “The Killing of Harold Bulan.” They will each receive a $750 award. Finishing as a runner up and earning the $250 third place award is Manuel Morquecho’s “Transition.”

We would like to thank this year’s jurors: John Christopher Anderson, co-founder of Momenta Workshops; Xyza Cruz Bacani, a Hong Kong-based documentary photographer; James Whitlow Delano, a Tokyo-based documentary photographer; Carl Juste, a photojournalist at the Miami Herald; Molly Roberts, a senior photo editor at National Geographic Magazine; Susan Sterner, director of New Media, GW’s Corcoran School of Arts & Design; Amber Terranova, an educator with Magnum Photos.

First Place (tie) – The Birth of Baby Kay

Sandra Stokmans
Maarssen, Netherlands | www.sandrastokmans.nl

About this image: “The aftermath of a child’s birth: a child with a congenital heart defect and the impact this has on a father.”

Submission statement: “In 2018 I started volunteering for Stichting Hartekind (a foundation for kids with a congenital heart defect), the only charity in the Netherlands that finances scientific research into heart defects in children. I was asked by a very good friend, hij himself has a congenital heart defect, to photograph an event for Stichting Hartekind. I did that for him, and I was struck by the perseverance and zest for life of these children. Our friend has now passed 40, partly due to the placement of a new heart valve, and a second valve when he was 30. But a third time …? Through him, I feel connected to Stichting Hartekind. I started Project Hartekind midst of 2018. It is an awareness project, a photojournalism project, to help raise the awareness around the Heart Children in the Netherlands.”

Bio: “Sandra Stokmans is a documentary family and business photographer based in the Netherlands (Utrecht area, near Amsterdam). She loves the real honest everyday moments, happy moments, sad moments. Life is all about the daily moments! Traditions, customs and routines. She is passionate about portraying families in any composition or stage of their lives. She loves the sincerity, spontaneity, openness and silliness of children. Mom’s tenderness, horsing around with dad, grandma’s love, grandpa’s jokes… It’s beautiful to watch, and even better to capture. She is keen on giving tangible visual memories of those moments that evoke emotion and can be relived with pride and pleasure forever. Real ís Perfect!”

First Place (tie) - The Killing of Harold Bulan

Ezra Acayan
Manila, Philippines | www.eacayan.com

About this image: “Bea, sister of 17-year-old Harold Bulan, holds a toy gun next to his coffin during his funeral wake in Quezon city, Metro Manila, Philippines, December 7, 2017. Harold was last seen with his cousin Jerico Garcia and their friend Jomari Siñerez, whose bodies were dumped in different parts of town. Their throats had been sliced.”

Submission statement: “More than 27,000 dead: this is the result of a two-year war on drugs in the Philippines. In 2016, Rodrigo Duterte became president of the Southeast Asian republic. His campaign promise to fight drugs with any means won him the election: he threatened those connected to drug consumption and sales with the death penalty, called for vigilante justice and allowed the police to act with brutality. Dealers and users were murdered. The United Nations appealed in vain to the Philippine government to investigate extrajudicial killings and to prosecute the perpetrators. The war continues. This photo reportage hopes to illuminate both the violent acts carried out in the Philippines as well as the questionable methods of Duterte and the police.”

Bio: “Ezra Acayan is a documentary photographer based in Manila whose work primarily focuses on social issues and human rights. Currently, he is working on a documentary reportage on the suffering and abuse experienced by communities under the Philippine government’s war on drugs. In 2017, together with a team of Reuters journalists, was awarded a special merit at the Human Rights Press Awards for multimedia reporting on the drug war. He was also named Young Photographer of the Year at the Istanbul Photo Awards 2018. This work—along with work by other journalists who cover the drug war—has been exhibited in Geneva for two straight years as part of the Universal Periodic Review of the Philippines at the United Nations Human Rights Council. It has also been exhibited in France during the Prix-Bayeux Calvados Award for War Correspondents, in Sarajevo during the WARM Festival, and in Germany during the Lumix Festival for Young Photojournalism.”

Runner Up - Transition

Manuel Morquecho
Washington, D.C. | www.manuelmorquecho.com

About this image: “This image shows a mother providing solace to her son whom she knows will soon die. A month before cancer took my youngest brother’s life, I asked them to pose for their final portrait together. In this image, there is sadness (imminent loss of a life) and my mother’s compassion and love as she holds the plastic bag that collected the poisonous liquids drained from my brother’s body.”

Submission statement: “My images capture different type of human emotions/situations.”

Bio: “I am a late comer to photography or even to the artistic world. However, I always have had a passion for photography even since I was a young boy growing up in a small town in Central Mexico. I am one of twelve other brothers and sisters. I worked from a young age in my uncle’s bakery to draw my parents’ attention by bringing some money home. The smell of fresh baked bread that awake my senses and my story and that of my big family became unforgettable moments that remained in my mind like pictures, and later on the story behind several of my future images. Unfortunately, I had to leave my parents’ home as a teenager and find ways to support myself, postponing my dream to become a fine art photographer for many years. I finally had the opportunity to start studying photography in 2009 when I lived in Guatemala and later on in Washington DC at Boston University Center for Digital Imaging Arts, graduating in 2014.”

Finalist - The Killing of Michael Nadayao

Ezra Acayan
Manila, Philippines | www.eacayan.com

About this image: The body of Michael Nadayao lies dead on the street next to a funeral wake, after he was shot dead by unidentified men in front of mourners, in Quezon city, Metro Manila, August 31, 2018.

Finalist - Momma Meacham

Tom Atwood
New York City | www.tomatwood.com

About this image: Momma Meacham, Transgender performer — Van Nuys, CA. From ‘Kings & Queens in Their Castles’, portraits of LGBTQ Americans at home.

Honorable Mentions

Jefferson Lankford
North Carolina | www.jeffersoncainelankford.com

Alain Schroeder
Brussels, Belgium | www.alainschroeder.myportfolio.com

Larry Louie
Edmonton, Canada | www.larrylouie.com

Andrew Golda
Kathmandu, Nepal

Marco Panzetti
Barcelona, Spain | www.marcopanzetti.com

Sumit Basu
Hillsboro, Oregon

Thomas Mullins
Washington, DC

Sandra Kudrecki
Arlington, Virginia |www.kudreckiphotography.com