For the third year running, HOST gallery is packed floor-to-ceiling with over 150 photographs, images that cover numerous subjects and genres. Quite a spectacle indeed and choosing a single image out of the 153 as the Best in Show is not an easy task. On 22 July, the first chance we got to see the show hung in all its glory, the five judges arrived to deliberate and debate as to what makes a decent image and how its presentation – print quality and framing – is ultimately an important criteria to consider.

After carefully mulling over the work, the judges – Monica Allende, Stefanie Braun, Harry Hardie, Colin Jacobson and Mark Power – each took turns going around the room, pointing out which photographs caught their eye and why. While no two judges selected the same group of photographs, and there were some discussions as to why certain images appealed to some and not to others, there were four images to which the judges kept returning.

Judges noted a number of strong portraits in this year’s selection of work, and a few in particular were the centre of much debate. One such work, ‘Lonely Butterfly’ by Claudia Wiens, was Mark Power’s personal choice:

“I think this is an outstanding single image – the criteria we were judging against. It works on many levels. Firstly, it speaks about a clash of cultures, and suggests why Turkey’s aspirations to join the European Union meet such vehement opposition in certain circles. It’s also a picture about tourism, and how it appropriates a place for it’s own ends, but at some cost to the existing culture. Finally, it’s visually quite confusing; the vignetting, which suggests it’s taken on a cheap, possibly plastic camera, has caused a strange flattening of the surface, so the woman seems to be standing in front of a backdrop. In other words, the camera has transformed the reality of the situation into a picture which is not, on first viewing, what it seems.”

Lonely Butterfly. Butterfly Valley in southern Turkey is a remote beach only accessible by foot. Day-trippers on package holidays come with tour boats for one hour to absorb the beauty of the place. Sometimes the mix of people is not quite right. This Arab woman felt quite lost and lonely among the loud, tattooed and boozing mainly English tourists. © Claudia Wiens

Also in the running was Poulomi Basu’s photograph of a group of women from the Indian Border Armed Forces. Stefanie Braun chose this as her personal favourite, stating:

“This image works so well on several levels. On a visual level you have the amazing tonal range of the greens creating a beautiful, evocative photograph. However, when reading the caption, you find out that these women who are chatting casually in the morning mist are about to be sent off to guard the India/Pakistan border, suddenly suggesting a deeper, darker message. I love how these two levels – the composition and the content – come together perfectly in this image.”

Women from the Indian Border Armed Forces wait for their training to begin at the break of dawn, after which they will be deployed to the India-Pakistan Border in Punjab and the line of control in Kashmir. © Poulomi Basu

Yet it was the more current, newsy photograph – ‘Inside the Kettle’ by Andrew Testa – that Colin Jacobson was most intrigued by, also commenting that it is the type of image that probably would not be picked up by mainstream press, perhaps a reason it deserves recognition.

“What I like about this picture from the G20 protests in London is the way the photographer has chosen to depict a quiet but very telling moment in a hectic and volatile situation. The people in the photo have been ‘kettled’ by the police, herded like cattle into enforced passivity. The main character has a timeless air about him, he seems to come from a previous generation and we feel he has been on many such demonstrations in his lifetime. Now he seems demoralised and defeated and gives the impression that he just wants to get out of there and go home (which is exactly what the police intended). This is a highly intelligent piece of photojournalism that speaks beyond the immediate situation to issues of civil liberties and debatable police powers. The photographer wisely avoided the usual predictable images of conflict and confrontation but the result is saturated with a sense of pessimism about the future direction of our society.”

Inside the Kettle. G20 Demonstration, London. April 2009. © Andrew Testa

In the end, however, it was a different type of portrait that was able to attain near unanimous consensous as the Best in Show: Laura Pannack’s ‘Shay’. Monica Allende commented: “This portrait is all about intensity. It’s a very close look at a human face that conveys emotion, too much emotion to comprehend. It’s a very raw picture that along with the tattoo on the arm of the young woman, makes you want to know the story behind the photograph.”

Shay. © Laura Pannack

And Harry Hardie observed: “What’s so special about this picture are the details. The tattoo – not just what it says but the way it mimics the Nike Swoosh on her shirt – and the cigarette, that although it is not in focus, one imagines has a large line of ash on it, as if time has stopped. This is echoed in the expression on her face, deep intensity and focused on something ahead although the car is obviously stationary. From a distance one could be mistaken that this is an American photograph from the 70s but on closer inspection – the piercing, the Nike Swoosh, the car door handles – one realises that this is contemporary and British. And yet of course that stare is timeless.”

While the judges have chosen their Best in Show, we also encourage you to vote for your favourite photograph. The People’s Choice award, announced toward the end of the exhibition, is determined through votes from visitors to the gallery. Make sure to see the show and cast your vote before its over on 4 September. We look forward to another successful and stimulating Summershow for 2011.

This year’s judges: Allende (L), Jacobson, Hardie, Braun, Power.