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Sunday, March 6, 2011

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Left behind: Abandoned shoes in Aokigahara forest near Mt. Fuji, which is a renowned suicide spot. From the series "Japan Suicide," which won a Jury Prize at the 7th Days Japan International Photojournalism Award. ROBERT GILHOOLY PHOTO

Annual awards aim to support photojournalists


Staff writer

Floods in Pakistan, an earthquake in Haiti, an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and violent suppression of human rights the world over: The prize-giving ceremony at this year's Days Japan International Photojournalism Award, which was held in Tokyo on Thursday evening, was a graphic reminder of the catalog of horrors that befell the world in 2010.

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Moving pictures: Jan Dago's photographs of the Haiti earthquake aftermath won First Prize at the awards. JAN DAGO PHOTO

The Grand Prix at what is Japan's largest independent international award for photojournalism went to Danish photographer Jan Dago for a selection of shots taken in the immediate aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, which struck in January. Several of the 15 haunting images submitted by Dago depicted Haitians struggling to clean up, or just get their lives back in order, some of them to a backdrop that included the still-unburied victims of both the quake and its chaotic postscript.

Dago was awarded ¥1 million in prize money in addition to a Nikon camera and other prizes.

One of the prize's judges, writer and translator Kayoko Ikeda, told the gathering on Thursday that "the theme of the Days Japan award is the dignity of humans and nature, but this year there weren't any photographs in the final selection that captured those things in an uplifting way."

Second prize was shared by Bangladeshi Saikat Mojumder, for his series documenting a birth in a Bangladeshi slum, and Jerusalem-born Ammar Awad, of Reuters, for his gripping shots of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli authorities.

One of the recipients of the third prize, South Korean Jae Hyun Seok, whose tender photographs documented the livelihood of prostitutes in the Philippines, was present at the ceremony. "I personally really appreciate what Days Japan does to improve photojournalism in the world today and also make the world a better place. Now I have got this award, I will work harder to find serious stories and to share them," he said.

The work of one Japan Times contributor was recognized in the awards. British freelance photojournalist Robert Gilhooly received a Jury Prize for an eerie portfolio documenting the Aokigahara forest near Mt. Fuji, which is renowned as a spot for suicides.

"This year is the 13th year that the number of suicides in Japan have topped 30,000," Gilhooly explained to The Japan Times at the ceremony. "I was interested in going to the forest and trying to find out what anybody could possibly find comforting about going there and ending their lives in this manner."

Gilhooly's camera captured disconcerting traces of the people who entered but never left the forest. Some of those traces, such as a set of colorful sneakers, were clearly left by people of a tender age.

After the announcement of the winners of this year's awards, Days Japan President Ryuichi Hirokawa took to the stage to announce that the company, which for the last seven years has published a full-color magazine devoted to photojournalism, would be adding a new online version, Days International, on March 20.

"The site will enable people to connect with photographers all over the world," he said, "and they will be able to make donations to support the activities of such photographers, too."

Hirokawa, who is a photojournalist himself, explained that the Web version would allow him to fully realize the global vision that he had always held for the magazine. "Online, we will have an English-language version, a Japanese-language version and they will be closely followed by Burmese-language and Korean-language versions," he said.

Holding the international competition has given Days Japan a strong reputation in the international photojournalist community, Hirokawa explained — particularly among those who are working independently of the major American and European agencies.

"Those photographers need our support to continue their work in harsh conditions," he said. "With this new website we can offer them that."

For more information, visit www.daysjapan.net.


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