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American Photo Open 2021: The Winner of the SanDisk "Share Your World" Prize is Zay Yar Lin

By David Schonauer   Wednesday October 13, 2021


Congratulations to Zay Yar Lin!

Today we announce that Zay Yar (below) is the winner of this year’s SanDisk “Share Your World” grand prize, part of the American Photography Open 2021 competition,  for his image “Tribal Identity.” He takes home a $2,500 cash prize as well as a 1TB Extreme PRO Portable SSD and three 128GB Extreme PRO SD Cards.

Zay Yar has been earning a worldwide reputation over the past few years for his travel photography. He was the grand prize winner of the very first American Photography Open competition, in 2018, and his work has been a finalist in subsequent editions of the contest. He’s also been featured by a number of online journals. A professional ship’s captain based in Yangon, Myanmar, he is a self-taught photographer who has been honing his visual skills since 2014 by capturing images of life aboard his vessels and by exploring far-flung locations during his travels and vacation time.

“I was addicted to painting since childhood. I didn't imagine that I would become a photographer one day,” he says. “When I first noticed the many beautiful and inspiring photos on social media like Facebook, I decided I wanted to create images like them. But I knew nothing about photography. One of my colleagues suggested that I learn photography online. I visited and learned from tutorials on photography websites.”

Zay Yar’s winning photo, at top, was made last year in Ethiopia, where he had gone to take pictures and learn about local cultures. Among the locations he visited were Suri villages in Ethiopia’s Omo Valley.

"These Suri tribes are very friendly and willing to be photographed,” he notes. “Suri or Surma peoples paint their faces and bodies with colorful natural clay and adorn themselves with local flowers. I roamed in the village and looked for distinct faces to create captivating portraits. While roaming and photographing, I got the idea to create the photo of a Suri youngster surrounded by the women's hands with bracelets. I organized some Suri women with the help of local guide and took the photo to capture their tribal identity." He shot with a Nikon Z7 full-frame mirrorless camera and a Nikkor 14-30mm f/4 lens. "The photo was taken in a shaded area during afternoon sunlight," Zay Yar notes. "I didn't want to spoil the face of the subject and the braceleted hands with harsh light."

“For me, the photograph expresses the importance of Suri kids and Suri culture,” says Zay Yar. "The Suri exist at the margins of the Ethiopian state. They feel neglected and discriminated against. They say that the government has unfairly targeted them for disarmament, despite the fact that their neighbors continue to attack them. The state has also tried to ban ‘harmful customs’ such as cattle raiding and lip plates. To maintain the symbol of Suri culture and tradition, elders must take great care and protect the young kids, as they are the hope and inheritors of the Suri culture.”

There are also two runners up for the SanDisk "Share Your World" prize. One is Indonesian photographer Hardijanto Budiman’s image “Devastated” (below). Budiman, who is based in Jakarta, captured the scene at a hospital last April when a friend of his, a doctor, lost a patient to covid-19.


The other runner up is photographer Audrey Bellot’s image “Purple Waves" (below). Bellot, who is a professional dog photographer based in Bizeneuille, France, captured a golden retriever amid a field of blooming lavender in Valensole, France.

Visit Zay Yar Lin’s website, Instagram and Facebook pages.
Visit Hardijanto Budiman’s Instagram page.
Visit Audrey Bellot’s website.

Go here
to see the shortlist for the American Photography Open 2021 competition.

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