What makes a great image? CR’s Photo Annual judge Gemma Fletcher shares her favourite work

The entry deadline to CR’s Photography Annual is coming up this Thursday: to help inspire you to enter this year, we’ve asked our judges about what they think makes a great image. Here, Gemma Fletcher, senior art director at Getty Images, talks about her favourite recent images and which photographers she thinks are making outstanding work right now…

From ‘The Virtue of Wrestling’ series by Nick Ballon, art directed by Gemma Fletcher

The entry deadline to CR’s Photography Annual is coming up this Thursday: to help inspire you to enter this year, we’ve asked our judges about what they think makes a great image. Here, Gemma Fletcher, senior art director at Getty Images, talks about her favourite recent images and which photographers she thinks are making outstanding work right now…

We’re introducing some important changes to this year’s Photography Annual – we want to celebrate not just the work of photographers themselves but also those who commission and art direct great images, whether in advertising, magazines online or via an image library. As well as adding categories for the best use of photography in advertising and marketing campaigns, by fashion brands and in editorial, we’re introducing one to celebrate the best work commissioned by photo libraries.

This year’s judges are Sarah Douglas, creative director at Wallpaper*; Daniel Moorey, head of print at Adam&EveDDB; Sarah Thomson, head of art production at Fallon London; Gemma Fletcher, senior art director at Getty Images; Alan Wilson, art director at AMV BBDO; and Save the Children’s Jess Crombie. You can read our recent interviews with Crombie, Wilson and Thomson by clicking on their names. Below, Fletcher responds to our questions:

Priozersk X (House of Culture), Kazakhstan, 2011 (from Nadav Kander’s series Dust)

What image, or series of images, has impressed you most in the past 12 months, and why?

I saw Nadav Kander’s Dust project (above and below) as part of the Prix Pictet retrospective and the images left me feeling very emotionally charged. The project covers his investigation into two ‘closed’ cities on the border between Kazakhstan and Russia. Both desolated, restricted military zones where hundreds of atomic bombs were detonated in populated areas so covert studies could be made into the effects of the radiation on the unsuspecting inhabitants.

The paradox is what keeps me coming back to this series. The scars of the truly dark side of mankind laid bare, but portrayed with such captivating beauty, challenging the viewer to rethink our code of aesthetics.

I left the show haunted by Nadav’s quote that frames the exhibition. It shares how the ticking of the Geiger counter on his belt while he photographed reminded him that he should not become too enthralled with the aesthetic and painterly allure of the crumbling ruins.

Kurchatov IV (Telephone Exchange), Kazakhstan, 2011 (from Nadav Kander’s series Dust)

The Polygon Nuclear Test Site VI, Kazakhstan, 2011 (from Nadav Kander’s series Dust)

What, to you, makes a great image?

There are so many elements that contribute towards making a truly great image, but in a culture where imagery is in abundance, ultimately a great image is one you want to revisit over and over again.

What photographers do you think are doing really great work right now?

I think there are a lot of people making fantastic work right now: Taryn Simon, Viviane Sassen, Katy Grannan, Jean Yves Lemoigne. Alex Prager, and Thomas Brown. There is also some incredible emerging talent making great work. Nick Ballon’s exploration of Bolivian heritage is always intriguing, his project Ezekiel 36:36 is a tragic and beautiful series. Ryan Hopkinson’s unique blend of art, science and tech in his cinematic portfolio is really impressive. Sarker Protick, Alma Haser, Kate Peters, David Ryle, Owen Silverwood, Felicity McCabe, Charlie Engman are all making exciting work.

Both images from Nick Ballon’s Ezekiel 36:36 series

And what organisations do you think are making great use of photography at the moment?

Port magazine continue to commission and showcase great photography with a unique point of view, as do The Gentlewoman, Viewpoint and Riposte magazine.

Commercially, Nike’s ability to consistently evolve and build variety across their different campaigns has always impressed me. They balance powerful conceptual ideas next to accessible lifestyle with ease. The new BMW 4 series campaign shot by Owen Silverwood turns car photography on its head and Lurpack also do a great job injecting a sense of play and personality into their product through their dynamic use of imagery.

Cover and spread from Riposte magazine

BMW 4 series by Owen Silverwood

Lurpak posters, shot by Ryan Hopkinson

The final deadline for entries to this year’s Photography Annual is September 18th. For details on how to submit your work, or for more info about the Annual, click here.

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this month: read their stories inside.
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