American Photography Open 2022: Meet This Year's 10 Finalists

By David Schonauer   Wednesday October 5, 2022

The time has come.

The judging is over.

Today we announce the 10 finalists of the American Photography Open 2022 competition. Congratulations to Mauro De Bettio; Diana Feil; Deb Fong; Jatenipat Ketpradit; Aviva Klein; Sabina Miklowitz; Swee Oh; Kháhn Phan; Alain Schroeder; and Svetlin Yosifov.

One will be named the contest’s grand prize winner and receive $5,000 and prizes from our sponsors, including their choice of a Tamron 35-150mm f/2-2.8 Di III VXD lens (Model A058 for Sony mirrorless users, $1,899 value) or, for Canon and Nikon DSLR users, a Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 lens (Model A025, plus a Tamron SP 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD lens (Model F012), value $1898, as well as a SanDisk 1 TB Extreme Pro Portable SSD, a PhotoShelter 2-year Pro account and a 2-hour business consultation with The Photo Closer.

The nine other finalists will receive a Tamron 35mm f/2.8 Di III OSD lens (Model F053) for Sony mirrorless ($249 value) or $150 credit towards any Tamron lens purchase (note: credit for USA residents only), a SanDisk 128GB Extreme Pro SD card and a PhotoShelter 1-year standard account.

This year, as in our past competitions, we received thousands of entries from around the world, from photographers at every level, and as in the past we were deeply impressed and gratified by the skill, determination, creativity and artistic accomplishment of those who shared their work with us. The photographs you’ll find from our finalists speak to the power of photography to move us and to reveal our world in new ways. Go here to see a special video featuring their work.

Mauro De Bettio: “Gentlemen of Kibera”

The man at the center of Mauro De Bettio’a photograph “Gentlemen of  Kibera” is known as Baqteria. He's a model, tailor, actor, mentor, stuntman and, not least, the “Kibera model of the year 2020”—Kiberia being the largest slum in Nairobi, Kenya, and the largest urban slum in Africa. According to a 2009 census, the Kibera slum is home to 170,000, though other sources suggest the total Kibera population may range from 500,000 to over 1,000,000.

“For many reasons, I’ve been visiting the slum for years,” says De Bettio, a much-traveled photographer now based in Barcelona, Spain. “While in Kibera, I would see these fantastic people, just walking around, wearing such stylish and colorful suits. And, of course, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to portray at least one of them.”

De Bettio shot the photo in July of 2021 with a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM II lens. He lit the street portrait with a Profoto B10 flash and softbox. “I always feel safe when I'm in that place, but you can't forget that Kibera is still pretty dangerous if you're not with the right people,” he says.

Born in a village in the Italian Alps, De Bettio—a finalist in the 2018 American Photography Open contest—has recently been working on several projects regarding social and human rights issues in Asia and Africa. “My constant curiosity for different cultures and ways of living lead me to a country’s most hidden corners to capture the emotion and trauma of suffering humanity,” he says. For two years, he has also been working with the Malaika Foundation, an organization he helped start that is dedicated to helping orphaned children in Nairobi, Kenya.

See Mauro De Bettio’s website.

Diana Feil: “Tawn”

On September 16, 2021, Diana Feil was on hand to document her friend Tawnya giving birth to her third child in Venice, California. Feil had already photographed the arrival of Tawnya’s second child, who was born in a home in Mexico with a local midwife, but the more recent event came with heightened drama.

“The same midwife from Mexico was scheduled to arrive in Los Angeles one week before the due date, but Tawnya went into labor three days before she was to have flown in, so no midwife, nurse or doctor was present,” Feil says. “Instead, Tawnya got incredible support through her family—her partner, mom, dad, grandma, daughters and (primarily) her sisterhood. It was literally a BIRTHday party. I did not count the people present, I’m guessing there were 15 to 20. It was an intense experience for all of us.”

She adds that there was no particular challenge about capturing the moment—“besides everyone being nervous because a baby was about to enter this planet.” Her photograph “Tawn” shows a moment of calm before Tawnya began her final pushes. “It started getting darker out and I realized the sun was setting, warm light was bouncing off the window of the building across the street. We had the blinds down all afternoon and I rushed to open them because I knew this is going to be a beautiful moment,” says Feil, who shot with a Leica Q and 28mm lens.

Feil, who earned a spot among the finalists of the American Photography Open 2021 competition, is a professional photographer based in Los Angeles. Her project “Until Further Notice — Angelenos Under The Lens,” documents what she calls “the resilience and courage” of her hometown.

See Diana Feil’s website.

Deb Fong: “Black Swan Secret”

Deb Fong took a black-and-white photography class 22 years ago, and, as she puts it, was thereafter “hooked” on the medium. “I evolved from film to digital, from black and white to color, from casual to very serious. I am particularly interested in photographing wildlife, unique travel experiences, and humanity in many ways, from portraiture to street photography to dance,” she says. Based in New York City, she describes herself as a “serious photographer with numerous ongoing paid and personal projects.”

It was only relatively recently, however, that Fong began photographing birds. “While in Cartagena, Colombia, in March of 2019, a friend suggested I explore an area nearby that has a notable and diverse avian population,” she says. After spending several hours photographing, she made her nominated image “Black Swan Secret.”

“This was one of the last images I captured and my personal favorite from that afternoon,” Fong notes. She shot with a Nikon D850 and a Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR lens. “As with all wildlife—and I think especially birds—capturing this image required a combination of both patience and preparedness,” Fong notes. “It took some time for the swan to trust me enough to allow me to be in relatively close proximity. I then waited for a moment that brought together the dappled, late afternoon light and a less expected gesture that I felt truly embodied her beauty, elegance and sense of mystery.”

See Deb Fong’s website.

Jatenipat Ketpredit: “Reign of the Hunters”

Based in Bangkok, Thailand, Jatenipat “JKboy” Ketpradit calls himself a “photographer and adventurer who is always seeking a fresh perspective.” He loves visiting people “in remote lands,” he says, “to learn about their lives.”

“Over the past 10 years, I’ve gained experience from traveling while carrying my beloved camera to mysterious places without worrying about the hardships of travel,” he notes. “My aim is to accumulate better skills in photography.” Among the places he’s visited is Mongolia, where, in October of 2020, he shot his nominated photograph “Reign of the Hunters.”

For centuries, burkitshi, or eagle hunters, have provided the people of the Altai Mountains with food during the frigid winter months. Eaglets are captured from their nests high in rocky crevices and live for many years with the families of hunters, who train them. The practice, notes Ketpredit, is becoming increasingly rare. “The advancements of technology are enticing fresh generations of villagers to work in cities,” he writes. “However, as long as there are descendants who are proud of their hunter ways, the sound of the golden eagle will continue to reverberate in the heart of the Altai Mountains.”

Ketpredit’s photo shows several generations of eagle hunters. He shot it in morning light from the top of the hill near Sagsai, a village in Bayan-Ölgii Province in western Mongolia, using a Nikon D810 with Nikkor AF-S 16-35mm f/4 lens. “The top of the hill was very cold and windy, and it was hard to control those horses,” he recalls. “I spent two days finding the location and checking the direction of sunlight as I planned my dream shot.”

See Jatenipat Ketpradit’s Flickr page.

Aviva Klein: “Amaris and Jamel”

Aviva Klein was born and raised in Brooklyn, and she says her life in New York City has been “the single most important influence” on the work she makes. A self-taught photographer, she now divides her time between the east and west coasts and counts Nike, Epic Records, Halle Berry and Spotify among the clients she has worked with. “While in college, I picked up a camera by chance and when I looked through the viewfinder, I became mesmerized looking at the world through this tiny, contained space,” she notes. “I felt an intense intimacy. I knew I stumbled upon something special that I never experienced before.”

Early last July, she and her friends Amaris and Jamel gathered for a photo shoot in New York. “We had been planning on me taking their pregnancy photos as soon as we knew they were pregnant,” Klein says. The result is her nominated portrait “Amaris and Jamel.”

“Timing and lighting were a big challenge here,” she says. “We planned on shooting their pregnancy photos later in the month, but Amaris was suddenly in the hospital being monitored around the clock. So, I met her and Jamel at a park near New York University hospital one afternoon, just me and my camera. We had very limited time as Amaris had to be back in the hospital within the hour. We shot around and inside the park, and nothing was really happening. Suddenly I saw light fall on Jamel—it was beautiful and I knew we’d stumbled upon something great. I jumped on a picnic table and began directing them both until I got them just right under the beautiful sunlight falling through the trees.” Klein shot with a Nikon Z 7II and Tamron 85mm f/2.8 lens.

See Aviva Klein’s website.

Sabina Miklowitz : “Boardwalk Empire”

“I was fortunate to be born into a very artistic family, so I did lots of different kinds of art when I was a kid,” says Brooklyn-based professional photographer Sabina Miklowitz. “My love of photography began at age nine when I received a Nikon Fun Touch 6 camera for my birthday. My first subjects were landscapes and details like chipped paint or rusted objects in the rural areas around my hometown in California, but I discovered a passion for portraiture in high school. Portrait sessions with friends and local musicians gradually became more elaborate as I experimented with wardrobe styling and makeup, and in college I narrowed my focus to fashion photography. After graduating from college in the winter of 2012, I packed up a suitcase and my camera bag and moved across the country to New York City to pursue fashion photography as a career.”

Miklowitz’s nominated photograph, “Boardwalk Empire,” was made in a location that shouts “New York” in bright colors: Coney Island. “The concept for this shoot was one I had bouncing around in my brain for a long time,” she says. “I've always loved Coney Island, as it feels like something of an anachronism—the boardwalk and Nathan's Famous have remained unchanged for decades despite the world changing around them.” She collaborated with wardrobe stylist Angelina Scantlebury, makeup artist Remi Odunsi, and model Nyamuoch Girwath to bring the concept for the photo to life. “The flamboyant styling and glam makeup reflect the over-the-top nature of the setting—utterly unique, unfettered and unapologetic,” she says.

Miklowitz made the image in November 2021 with a Canon 5D Mark IV an 24-105mm lens. “I'd had a very specific vision for this shot—this vision was the inspiration for the entire rest of the shoot, and happily, it turned out nearly exactly as I'd imagined it,” she says.

See Sabina Minkowitz’s website.

Swee Oh: “Lone Man”

Halfway between Downtown Los Angeles and beachside Santa Monica lies Culver City, home to movie studios, tech startups and The Hayden Tract, a declining industrial zone that has been transformed into a beehive of architectural experimentation and an enclave for creative-class companies in advertising, digital media, and the arts. Among the structures there is the Stealth Building, a long, low-slung gray warehouse designed by Eric Owen Moss Architects. It was this building that inspired San Francisco-based architectural photographer Swee Oh to create her image “Lone Man” in May of 2022.

“It is actually an image of the roof of the building,” says Oh, who shot with a Hasselblad X1D2.  “The minute I saw this angle, I had the vision of tilting the image and create it as gateway to the unknown. It is a composite. I added my friend Richard to the photo later, making sure the scale is correct, to show the grandiose of the gateway and space.”

“Swee’s work uses the buildings and spaces in which tech companies operate to ask questions about humanity, in this moment, seeing the future as it has come to be,” says Richard, the man  in the photograph. “It plays with scale, observing how the architecture we inhabit both shapes and reflects how we feel about ourselves in that future.”

Oh, who was also a finalist in the APO 2021 competition, came to architectural photography with a background as a professional architect. “My work is also deeply influenced by how I use light, form, shadows and textures in my work,” she notes.  In 2016, Oh was awarded the Hasselblad Masters award in the architectural category.

See Swee Oh’s website.

Khánh Phan: “Stormy Day”

Khánh Phan, a banker based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, became a passionate photographer after her marriage ended. “Photography gave my life a light,” she says. “As a woman I have been really reckless and daring in photography. I really love photography, and photography has helped me through the most difficult period of my life.”

At first, she stuck to photographing flowers around her home. “Then I realized that Vietnam, my beloved country, has hidden, fabulous natural and cultural scenes that only few places in the world have,” she says. She made her photograph “Stormy Day” in Hue Province last July—“July is the most beautiful time of year there,” she notes—when the sky became turbulent over Lap An Lagoon, an 800 hectare-acre lagoon dotted with oyster farms and traditional, wooden stilt houses.

“That day, when it was getting late in the afternoon. I followed sand dunes to the middle of the lagoon to take pictures. Then the storm came,” she says. “The ground seemed to be connected to the sky by wind and water. Lightning struck intermittently with sparks down the lagoon, making the people who were traveling with me very scared. They wanted to move ashore, but I stubbornly stayed. The wind was so strong that it seemed to drag me up into the air. I took a lot of pictures with different shades of weather and light that day.” She captured the remarkable scene above with a Sony a7R II.

See Khánh Phan’s Instagram page.

Alain Schroeder: “Kyrgyzstan Horses”

The founder of Belgium’s Reporters photo agency, Alain Schroeder is a widely traveled photographer whose images have appeared in National Geographic, GEO, and Paris Match, as well as in more than 30 books focusing on China, Iran, ancient Rome, the gardens of Europe, Thailand, Vietnam, Budapest, and Venice. His series on kid jockeys in Indonesia took first place in the Sports, Stories category of the 2018 World Press Photo competition, and his series on critically endangered orangutans in Sumatra, Indonesia, was the grand prize winner of the 2019 American Photography Open contest.

His nominated entry this year comes from a story he shot focusing on Kok boru, a traditional game played by Krygyz horseman (and elsewhere in Central Asia) in which players try to maneuver with a goat’s carcass. In other words, as Schroeder puts it, Kok boru is “dead goat polo.” The image was also a finalist in this year’s SanDisk “Share Your World” competition.

“Trying to outrun your opponents with a headless goat wedged between your leg and your horse  might not be your idea of a fun game, but in Kyrgyzstan, Kok Boru is the national sport,” Schroeder notes. “Its origins lie somewhere between nomads hunting or defending their livestock against predatory wolves, to men and horses honing their fighting skills. Boys from the age of 4 or 5 learn to play on donkeys. Most villages throughout the country have a playing field, and some have official stadiums. Professional teams play tournaments which culminate in the national championships that take place during the festivities surrounding Nowruz on March 21, when the Kyrgyz nation celebrates the beginning of spring.”

Schroeder captured the scene above in the village of Uzgen in December of 2020 with a Fujifilm X-T3 mirrorless camera and a 50-200mm lens at 135mm.

See Alain Schroeder’s website

Svetlin Yosifov: “Mundari Cattle Camp”

“I was born in Bulgaria and have had the privilege of living in that beautiful country all my life,” says Svetlin Yosifov, a photography enthusiast who works in a private health club in the city of Burgas that specializes in extreme sports. “That involves a lot of travel and keeps my life dynamic and interesting,” he adds. “Apart from that, I love traveling abroad and do so once a year for a period of two months. I associate these trips with diving into the unknown, meeting new people and experiencing new things.”

His nominated photograph—which was also the winner of the SanDisk “Share Your World” competition—captures a way of life for the Mundari tribe of South Sudan. “Ten or more families live in each cattle camp of the Mundari tribe,” he notes. “They are cooperative, help each other out in their work, and protect each other. Each family has anywhere from 20 to 100-plus head of cattle, but when an animal dies for any reason, the meat is distributed to all.”

“Where exactly the photo was made is hard to say, because the Mundari cattle camps change locations depending on water bodies and pastures,” Yosifov says. It was taken in October/November of 2021, about four or five hours from Juba, the capital of South Sudan, using a Canon 6D Mark II and Canon 28-300mm lens. “I shoot in contra-jour,” Yosifov notes, indicating a photographic technique in which the camera is pointed directly toward a source of light. “This way I always manage to capture the exact outlines of people—there are no glares or shadows.”

See Svetlin Yosifov’s Instagram page.

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