16 photographers recall the joyful, profound, and intimate moments behind their images

Every year, Palm* Studios seeks to recognize and celebrate 100 emerging photographers through a photo competition and accompanying exhibition. Aiming to reduce the photography field’s notoriously high barriers to entry, it is free to submit to the Palm* Photo Prize. The date of the exhibition is pending, but Palm* Studios has published its shortlist online and will announce additional distinctions including the judge panel prizes, the Peoples Choice Award, and the Peoples Choice Instagram Award on May 30.

Document asked a selection of 16 photographers featured on the shortlist to describe the story behind their submitted image. The photographers recalled moments of introspection, grief, friendship, and serendipity. One photograph captures the tense atmosphere of collective reckoning with the Covid-19 pandemic, another confronts the generational consequences of civil war, another depicts a flash of joy in the midst of grief. Taken together, the photographs are a powerful reminder that it is only through the lens of many that we see the full breadth of human experience.

Photograph by Tugberk Acar

Tugberk Acar, Istanbul, Turkey

“The day I took this photo was two days after the first case of Covid-19 was reported in Turkey. The energy on set was very strange and subdued, everyone had anguished expressions on their face; all day felt like a ‘Mexican standoff.’ We shot on the picturesque Black Sea coast, engulfed by a dense fog. I believe the atmosphere and mood of the team at that point were articulated through my image. Straight after the shoot, I went into lockdown, along with the majority of the country. I made the decision to submit this piece to Palm* Photo Prize as it is a true representation of how myself, and I am sure many others, are feeling during this time.”


Photograph by Billy Barraclough

Billy Barraclough, Bristol, UK

“Every weekend whilst living in Beirut I would try and get down to the seafront, called the corniche. Zain and his friends were no different; perched on a little rocky outcrop that protruded from the corniche, they would spend their days swimming and soaking up the sun on makeshift cardboard sun loungers. Zain and I became friends and he would often hail me down from the corniche to join them. In and around this particular portrait, I imagine we either swam together, joked around, or shared food.”


Photograph by Hajar Benjida

Hajar Benjida, The Netherlands

“I took this image of Cleo last year as part of my photo series ‘Atlanta Made Us Famous’ which highlights the dancers that play an important role in the Atlanta hip-hop scene. I got introduced to Cleo through a mutual friend; we had never met before but we decided to meet at her home and shoot some photos. She was breastfeeding her baby mid-shoot and I asked her if I could capture that specific moment. It was one shot and even though I couldn’t see my film right away, I just knew it was the one I needed.”

Photograph by Ashley Bourne

Ashley Bourne, Bristol, UK

“I used to walk past this cottage on my way to school every week for six years. It sits just around the corner from my family home and I still walk past whenever I visit. Some 15 years later, as the only cottage on a busy main road, it sits quietly unchanged. It was a Sunday; I said hello and stood for a while, watching repairs being made to the roof. We spoke at the gate afterward, about the cottage and garden. I said goodbye and that I’d visit again soon, and walked on to meet my brother.”


Photograph by Daniel Dorsa

Daniel Dorsa, Brooklyn, NY

“My fiancée and I were in the Florida Keys when we arrived at Robbie’s, a tourist trap where you can feed large tarpon fish. The pelicans flock there to try to steal some of the food from the fish or the participants. On that day, there must have been over fifty of them trying their luck at stealing food from the visitors’ buckets. In this moment, the pelicans are currently looking up to the pier waiting for the opportune moment to snag some food.”


Photograph by Pablo DiPrima

Pablo DiPrima, London, UK

“I first met Samantha in London when she was a cleaner in my apartment. She noticed I had quite a few art and photo books, and that started a conversation. A year later, she contacted me to ask for a portrait with her newborn baby. Once she had seen the portrait, I asked her to write her thoughts.”


Photograph by Jon Ervin

Jon Ervin, New York, NY

“The day I took that image I had left my apartment in Brooklyn at five in the morning to head to LaGuardia airport in order to pick up a rental car from Hertz and drive it down to Annapolis, Maryland. Days before in my research, I had stumbled across this yearly coming of age event with the first-year navy recruits called the Herndon climb. The objective was to climb a 21-foot statue covered in grease to replace a “Dixie Cup” hat with an upperclassman’s hat by way of a human pyramid. Not really knowing what to expect, and unable to acquire a press badge, I headed down to photograph this event. Surprised by how close to the statue and the students I was able to get, I immersed myself in their group and began to document everything that was in front of me. After hours in the hot sun on this late day in May, walking through the crowds and the sweaty recruits, I was able to capture this image.”


Imogen Forte, London, UK

Photograph by Imogen Forte

“Last Summer, I moved out of my house, put my stuff into storage, and spent three months traveling the coast of England, documenting the people and places I encountered. I wanted to explore more of the country I’d always called home and familiarise myself with new people and new places. I met this girl in Cornwall, where she was stood in the street with her family. I approached and asked if she wanted a portrait and she agreed. I spotted this amazing backdrop in the cafe beside us and so we popped inside to have a drink and a chat and take some portraits.”


Photograph by Sam Gregg

Sam Gregg, London, UK

“The photograph was taken on my first visit to Margate as part of a greater project trying to understand what it really means to be British in post-Brexit Britain (outside the confines of the London bubble). Believe it or not, it wasn’t set up. I was sitting across the road at a local greasy spoon as I watched the scene unfold before my eyes. As the owner stopped to admire the view the poodle hopped up on its own accord and did the same. I immediately picked up my camera and weaved through traffic to get the shot. I asked the man to stay in position for a couple of frames and then he was on his way. Just another day in your typically eccentric British seaside town.”


Mark Mahaney, Berkeley, CA

Photograph by Mark Mahaney

“I believe this image was made on the second day of my trip to Utqiagvik, Alaska, the northernmost point in the United States. I was there to document their Polar Night, where the sun doesn’t make an appearance for sixty-five days. I remember the process of taking this image to be one of the coldest and most intimidating moments of that trip. The wind chill was likely around -40 degrees Fahrenheit. Icicles formed around my nose and mouth. My feet were gone. It was brutal. Each time I had to take my gloves off to operate the camera, there was a sizable recovery period before feeling and function would return to my fingers. We’d driven by this huge mound of snow several times, but it wasn’t until we looped around from the other direction that we realized a Chevy truck was beneath it.”


Photograph by Julia Marino

Julia Marino, Amsterdam and London

“The image, part of an ongoing project, was taken last year in Neum, Bosnia, a town where I’m told by kids that this isn’t Bosnia, meaning it to be Croatia when in fact, it’s Bosnia. Seeing youth defending their beliefs about their true nationality shows that traces from a recent civil war are still everywhere in these countries. I wanted to capture the carelessness of these boys, paired with their confidence and masculinity. Still so young, but raised with such tough stories about their past.”


Photograph by Pat Martin

Pat Martin, Los Angeles, CA

“It was Easter afternoon and we heard Jeff was feeling lonely. She had thought that her whole family had forgotten about her, but to her surprise, we all showed up with a pack of American Spirits, wine, and a pair up bunny ears. Jeff may be 98, but she’s still a party-girl and loves some good company.”

Photograph by Jordie Oetken

Jordie Oetken, Los Angeles, CA

“On a winter day, as the sun was setting, I tasked a friend with washing dried clay from my hair. In order to detangle the mud, it was necessary that my head remain submerged in the frigid water for extended periods of time. Like much of my work, this piece portrays a performance of care under intentionally demanding physical circumstances. The conflict that arises within the image is not between the depicted individuals, themselves, but rather the sense of urgency catalyzed by the parameters of their action, and a hyperawareness of the body’s capacity to help or harm another.”


Photograph by Nishanth Radhakrishnan

Nishanth Radhakrishnan, India

“Two gamecocks, with poisoned knives fitted on their legs, are placed in the cockpit by their owners. Enthused spectators place their bets. Blood spurts, a cock dies and the game ends. Although the law has deemed it illegal, cockfighting, an ancient spectator sport is a recreational activity in many villages across southern India. Documenting this, I noticed passionate elders engaging curious youngsters in their neverending conversations on roosters and the game. The youngsters learn quickly, keeping this fast disappearing culture alive. Seen in this photograph is a young boy with his purebred fowl, his game-face on; could he be implying ‘your rooster or mine?’”

Photograph by Lotte Van Raalte

Lotte Van Raalte, Amsterdam

“This January (2020), I published my very first book BODY. Over the course of 16 months, I photographed 46 women in their most natural form including my mom. This picture was taken on the 16th of October 2018 at the beach in The Hague, the city where I grew up. My mom—who is terminally ill—had just told me some bad news. Minutes after, we were driving to the beach, during which I was still processing what she had just said. As soon as we started shooting she was running, dancing, and playing. One of her oldest friends was at the beach too, so I photographed them together. My mom absolutely loves the beach and although she’s ill, looking at the images afterward, she looks so full of life and joy. It’s one of my favorite images of the book, and I still am fascinated by the fact that her body actually created mine.”


Ada Zielinksa, Warsaw, Poland

I had scheduled to meet with firefighters on an empty property 50km away from Warsaw on a Sunday winter morning. My idea was to take a photo of a car that caught on fire inside, and to do this picture I had to sit in the burning car. Firstly, firefighters cut out the doors to the backseat so I could run if fire got out of control. Seconds after I took this photo and got out of the car, the airbag in the driving wheel exploded.


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