The Leica Oskar Barnack Award recognizes outstanding work by professional photographers who show unerring powers of observation and express the relationship between people and their environment in graphic form in a portfolio of up to 12 images. Named after Oskar Barnack, inventor of the Leica camera, an international jury awards the Leica Oskar Barnack Award/Leica Oskar Barnack Newcomer Award. They are presented in the course of the “Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie” photography festival held in Arles, France. We recently spoke with jury member Karin Rehn-Kaufman to get an insider’s look at the award.

Q: Thank you for taking time to interview with us. To start, can you describe your role regarding the Oskar Barnack Award & Oskar Barnack Newcomer Award? How long have you been involved with the Oskar Barnack Award?
A: I am one of several members of the jury, who chose the winners. Furthermore, I promote the winning images for exhibitions in Leica Galleries worldwide. I’ve been involved in the award since 2006.
Q: Being behind-the-scenes of the award, what makes it so special to you?
A: There are a lot of things that make the award special. It’s very important because it is THE Leica award. There’s a lot of prestige surrounding the award. I also get the opportunity to discover new talents as well as young, unknown, up-and-coming photographers, which is something I enjoy.
Q: What are your expectations for this year’s submissions? What do you hope to see?
A: I have high expectations for this year’s group of entries. As every year, I hope to see good image quality, interesting subjects. Of course, I would love to find some pictures that make me smile.
Q: How do you believe the award has evolved over the years? Have you seen any change in the photographs that are entered?
A: Since I became a member of the jury, the number of participants has increased significantly, which is great to see. However, quantity is not a direct correlation with quality. The Oskar Barnack Award is a competition for professional photographers so we’ve had to be careful and particular with the preconditions for participating in the contest. We want to ensure a certain quality standard, so it’s a balance that we’re constantly evaluating.
Q: What are you most looking forward to being a member of the jury?
A: It’s a great learning experience. Being a member of the jury, I am constantly learning a lot about photography and the way photographers see the world. Of course, it is exciting to choose the best images. Personally I look for images that are telling me a story, touch me and give me an idea of the individual look of the photographer.
Q: Who are your fellow juror members?
A: Besides myself, there is Alain Genestar who is the publisher of Polka Magazine in France and Markus Schaden a publisher and independent curator from Germany. We also have two internationally well-known photographers on the jury, Klavdij Sluban and Peter Turnley.
Q: Based on last year’s video, the deliberation can be exciting. How will you collaborate with your fellow jurors in determining the winners, especially since everyone brings a different perspective of photography?
A: It is always different, interesting and sometimes very amusing. Everyone brings a different perspective, which is a good thing, and makes the discussion vivid. But we always find a common level. Last year, the jury came to their quickest decision ever. All jury members agreed to the selection and we were happy with it.
Q: The Oskar Barnack Newcomer Award is still relatively young. What do you think about this addition and does it help young people in photography?
A: The Oskar Barnack Newcomer Award is a great way for young photographers to get publicly acknowledged for their work. Since the award is so renowned, it can be a great step in someone’s career. There are many benefits to receiving the Newcomer Award. The images are presented to a big audience of experts during the photofestival in Arles. Later the exhibition travels around the Leica Galleries, the images are published in LFI and, last but not least, they get a professional, beautiful Leica Camera.
Q: What criteria do the judges look for when reviewing the entries? Do you have any advice to potential entrants?
A: Photographers should have a strong edit of images. Present a strong, powerful image first and then hold that level throughout the entire series to the last image. This is what the jury wants to see. The images should tell a story, should touch the viewer.
Thank you for your time, Mrs. Rehn-Kaufmann!
– Leica Internet Team
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