Eye on the prize

01 Dec 2011

Author: Melinda Ham

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A burgeoning career photographing war-torn societies has led this young Australian to receive the most coveted photo journalism award available.
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Adam Ferguson casually enrolled in a Bachelor of Photography at Griffith University in Brisbane 10 years ago, after previously dropping out of two other degrees. Now he’s regarded as one of the world’s best up-and-coming documentary photographers after winning first prize in the spot news category of the highly esteemed World Press Photo Awards in 2010.

“I was ecstatic when I heard I’d won,” 31-year-old Ferguson says. “Although coupled with that excitement was also the fact that the photo was of a pretty tragic event.” His winning photo was taken in Kabul, Afghanistan a few minutes after a suicide bombing.

He describes the scene: “I saw two Afghan security personnel escorting an injured and frantic woman from between the buildings. It was intense. Fire hissed and building material crackled. I moved in close, paused, and made this picture as they ran past.”

While Ferguson is proud of his winning photo, he believes that his own visual signature is constantly changing. “The fundamental thing is that I don’t interfere – I leave myself out of the picture and let the scene retain its integrity. I mask my own interpretation and let the photo bring out its own truth. I am just a witness,” he says.

After finishing his degree in 2003, Ferguson travelled to Cambodia and then on to Mexico where he worked as a freelance photographer. On returning to Australia he got work at regional newspapers and an internship at The Sydney Morning Herald. While he appreciated the training he received, he realised that he needed more overseas experience.

In late 2006 he had a major break, receiving an internship with the VII Photo Agency in Paris. After this he freelanced in New Delhi for three years, getting photos published in prestigious journals such as Time, Newsweek, Vanity Fair and The New York Times. He now works for the VII network across South East Asia.

The World Press Award is paying off. “As a young photographer, receiving the most coveted photo journalism award there is was amazing. It’s given me a much higher standing with my client base and a lot of opportunity,” he says.