Overview: Judging this year's entries was a reminder of how, as a photo editor, I look at a succession of images all day long on my computer and my phone. Photography on some level has to stop a viewer in their tracks and instantly communicate an aesthetic sensibility. The submissions were a reminder of how much photography has changed since I've been in school. The majority of documentary photographers now blend their work with conceptual art practices. It's thrilling to see how the removal of those boundaries can transform just about anything when guided by an inspired vision. Whether students are documenting some aspect of the world or reflecting on the medium itself, the bar is now incredibly high for fresh ideas and new ways to see them. In the selection I also enjoyed seeing how so many photographers are thinking about engaging installation ideas and presentations for their work. However, many students still need to think about how they write about their work. While I was teaching I would often remind students that when your artist statement is made up mostly of quotations, you might not actually have your own idea yet. It's often best to speak clearly and be honest about what your work is about. It was difficult to pick just 6 photographers from this year's lot but here are a few of my favorites that represent a wide range of approaches.
Selector's Comment: I've seen 'the office' as subject used by many photographers in recent years. Mc Keever's documentary photos shot from the perspective of a true insider, take me on an endless business trip filled with moments of lingering stress and deep existential isolation. The images slowly deconstruct the world of salespeople and the artificiality of the modern office space. The series is made up of layered, claustrophobic scenes that build up into some kind of unsettling dream about capitalism and modern life.
Selector's Comment: Kenneth O Halloran's photographs of decaying handball courts in Ireland are elevated into incredible relics that don't rely on nostalgia. The project is executed in a concise, studied typology, yet something about these photographs feels beautiful and melancholic as nature reclaims these forgotten overlooked spaces.
Selector's Comment: Dominic Hawgood's work attempts to deconstruct the religious practices of a particular sect of evangelical Christians in England. The photographs are based on personal experiences and observations with the group. I enjoy how the highly stylized narrative photographs capture a distilled strangeness of these modern ceremonies in vibrant psychedelic color.
Selector's Comment: Alix Marie's work feels uncomfortable to look at. Her studies of the human body, particularly the focus on skin, in grotesque sculptural forms, feel like a struggle against photography and the body as we know it.
Selector's Comment: Paul Czyzyk's fragmented and impressionistic documentation of Harlow, a town constructed after WWII, explores the discrepancy between its past and present histories. The photographs construct a record of the town and its people that feels intimate yet reveals something that may be lost.
Selector's Comment: Alexandra Davies' collection of photographs of siblings in identical outfits is a delightful and fascinating look at a cultural phenomenon that raises so many questions for me about family, class, values and history. We've seen so many viral photo series and Tumblrs about nostalgic family snapshots but Davies' excellent curation and artful contextualization make this project feel thoughtful and incisive.
Paul Moakley Paul Moakley has been the Deputy Director of Photography and Visual Enterprise of TIME since 2010. He covers national news and special projects such as Person of the Year. Previously he was senior photo editor at Newsweek and photo editor of PDN (Photo District News). Moakley is an adjunct professor at the School of Visual Arts in New York City as well as a photographer and filmmaker. He lives at the Alice Austen House Museum, home of one of America's earliest photographers, as caretaker and curator of the museum.