In a black-and-white photo from Cindy Aquino's series "Bond," one young Filipino woman lovingly places her hand around another woman’s neck as she pulls up her shirt. They don’t appear to care about the camera.
The natural tenderness expressed between the two women is what makes the picture award-winning, said Stephen Mayes, former CEO of VII Photo Agency, who judged the third annual Pride Photo Award. Aquino’s photo won the best overall single image in the competition that looks at gender and sexual diversity within the worldwide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
“What makes it strong is the intimacy between these two women, the lack of any stress or self-consciousness of these women,” Mayes said. “It takes viewers into their lives.”
The competition featured photos in four categories – documentary; gender, picturing people with a gender identity different from male/female stereotypes; open, images without restrictions that didn’t fit into the other categories; and extremely normal, which portrayed LGBT as everyday people and not stereotypes.
Aquino, who also placed second for her "Bond" series in the extremely normal category, said advocates from her home country, the Philippines, inspired her.
"I know the issues and problems that they are dealing (with), especially here in the Philippines; Pinoys (Filipinos) are very conservative when it comes to that issue,” she said via e-mail. “… There’s a lot of discrimination going on, and most of the society still does not accept them.”
Aquino came up with the title of her project because some lesbians wrap a bandage around their bodies to hide their breasts. She said she also saw a deeper meaning.
"I used the term 'bond' to show the society that even LGBT are like normal people (who) just want to be happy with their lives, love and bond with each other like others do, to develop interpersonal relationships with each other,” Aquino said.
Hai Thanh Nguyen from Vietnam won first place in the documentary category for “The Pink Choice,” which features gay couples living together. Mayes described it as a coherent narrative that showed strong relationships.
"It stands up in every context you see it,” he said of the project, which also won first place in the contemporary issues category in the annual World Press Photo competition.
Anna Charlotte Schmid’s “The Other Side of Venus” won in the gender category. Her portraits of self-conscious adolescents were posed, set among rundown buildings and areas in Eastern Europe.
"Not only are the portraits beautifully captured, Mayes said, but the derelict settings represent the loneliness and isolation of the young men.
Irina Popova’s “Apt. 779,” which won the top award in the extremely normal category, captures an apartment in Moscow, where anywhere from five to seven lesbians live together at a time. The project felt very real to the judges, Mayes said.
"The jury as a whole thought it showed great ranges, from intimacy and loving to the fraught,” he said. “It’s got a rough edge to it.”
Nicola "Okin" Frioli’s “Princesses in a Land of Machos,” portraits of homosexuals from Juchitan, Mexico, was recognized in the open category.
“The color, the lights, the obvious comfort of the subjects … it’s just a gorgeous set of portraits,” Mayes said.
He said while he’s pleased with this year’s submissions, none of the projects showed the darker side of LGBT life.
“There are real physical and emotional dangers, and that’s somewhat absent in the winners,” Mayes said. “There’s a larger story to be told, and we hope next year there will be more.”
- Lauren Russell, CNN