Nurturing talent: snapshot of the future

With the Hamdan International Photography Award currently on an international tour, Vision explores how cultural prizes help shape the image of a nation

From the Oscars to the Booker Prize, awards ceremonies help raise the profile of individual artists and entire disciplines, but they can also cast the hosting country in a new light. Sweden and Norway have a reputation for progressive thinking, and the Nobel Prizes for various arts and sciences, handed out in Stockholm and Oslo, don’t hurt. The United States might not have quite the same reputation for superlative journalism without the Pulitzer Prize, and the Booker Prize has helped cement Britain’s place at the heart of the world’s literary community.

The UAE is becoming increasingly well known as a major creative hub of the Middle East, and part of that story can be traced back to a proliferation of prizes spotlighting artists who excel in a variety of fields. One of these, the Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum International Photography Award, with its grand prize of US$120,000 and many smaller prizes in both Emirati and international categories, is one of the more recent additions, launched in 2011.

“Building a road or a bridge might take a year or two,” HH Sheikh Mohammed was quoted as saying at the launch of Dubai’s 2015 Strategy, “but the development of people takes a lifetime.” His son made it clear in a statement that the HIPA Award is about establishing “inspirational” artists on a “global stage”.

The theme for the 2012-13 Award season is Beauty of Light, and entries were divided into three categories: black and white, general and ‘Emirates’. The Emirati photographer Osama Al Zubaidi won the Grand Prize for a stunning picture of a two tiny figures walking across desert dunes whose peaks are touched by an intense golden glow.

Other successful entries include a shimmering pink lake by Chinese artist Xiaoping Ling, a picture of the Northern Lights by the Icelandic Oscar Bjarnason, and a crisp image of a falcon in flight by Michel Zoghzoghi, from Lebanon. A touring exhibition of these images and other incredible entries arrives in Kuala Lumpur on 11 October after going on display in Brazil, India and at London’s Royal Geographical Society.

Meanwhile, submissions are already being accepted for the 2013-2014 prize, which has a new category, ‘Street Life’, and the overall theme ‘Creating The Future’. Applications will be open until the end of the year.