Jamie Sinclair wins Rebecca Vassie Memorial Award 2022

We are delighted to announces Jamie Sinclair as the winner of the fifth Rebecca Vassie Memorial Award for his proposal ‘Hjem (home)’.

The £2,000 bursary is supporting Sinclair as he returns to his hometown of Ashington, Northumberland, where a significant number of refugees are being housed. In his proposal, Sinclair said he wanted to “intimately narrate the experience of asylum seekers and refugees being settled into northern working class towns, working with both residents and refugees”. Sinclair, who spent time volunteering in the Calais Jungle refugee camp 2015-16, will be supported by the refugee charity Northumberland County Of Sanctuary.

The award, which also includes £500-worth of printing and one-to-one mentorship at the prestigious London printer Metro Imaging plus membership of Shutter Hub, was set up in memory of the British photojournalist Rebecca Vassie, who died suddenly in March 2015, aged 30, while on assignment in a refugee camp in Uganda. The award supports an early-to-mid career professional photographer, funding a project that focuses on human stories with a social or political context. 

Judges for this year’s award included Caroline Hunter (picture editor, Saturday Guardian magazine), Phil Coomes (picture editor, BBC news online), critic and curator Jennifer Thatcher, photographer Ben Bird, theatremaker and journalist Adam Barnard, and Rebecca’s mother Janet Vassie. The judges were impressed by Sinclair’s passion both for the rights of refugees and for his hometown of Ashington, where since 2015 he has collaborated on the Ashington District Star, a seasonal photographic journal funded by Arts Council England and inspired by the Pitmen Painters of Ashington with each issue recreating a Pitmen Painting through contemporary photography.

An image from ‘Unrequited Love’, Jamie Sinclair’s series exploring the struggles of a young ballet dancer to survive her vocation.

Of particular note is Sinclair’s perseverance – a regular applicant, he was longlisted for the first award in 2016 with a proposal about asylum processing centres, and in 2020 was highly commended with a proposal on male dancers and masculinity. Sinclair also won one of five rapid-response micro-bursaries created by the Trust to support photographers during the first Covid lockdown, creating the series ‘Neighbourly’ which explored how the local community in east London, where he now lives, adapted to the pandemic.

Sinclair said: “I’m overjoyed to have won the award and incredibly grateful to have my project ‘Hjem’ backed by the Rebecca Vassie Trust. The mentorship and funding at this point in my career are indispensable to me, especially with a project so close to my heart, allowing me to return home, to work within my community and to hopefully inspire education as well as positive changes.”

Highly commended by judges this year was Rebecca Conway, for her proposal ‘Aftermath, Nepal’, which seeks to document historic civilian trauma in central Nepal. Conway wants to focus on the impact on the mental health of communities in two districts in central Nepal, following the ten-year Maoist insurgency and conflict against government forces, where there have been some 60,000 complaints of human rights violations, 17,000 deaths and 1,500 disappearances. Conway receives £600 seed funding from the Trust towards her project.

Also shortlisted from more than 80 applications were Chris King, Anita Staff and Will Templeton. Ten longlisted applicants gain access to the Trust’s Development Network, which disburses small grants towards education, training and practice development.

From the series ‘Neighbourly’ by Jamie Sinclair. Sinclair’s favourite cafe in his east London neighbourhood adapted to the first lockdown by selling groceries and everyday essentials. 

Janet Vassie, Rebecca’s mother and one of the judges, said: “Jamie’s recognition for winning this award is so deserved. It’s a great story that needs to be told and his passion shines through. Having that will and determination to apply every year has paid off. Well done Jamie, I look forward to following your story.”

The first Rebecca Vassie Memorial Award (initially annual and now biennial), was won by James Arthur Allen in 2016, who documented the Circassians, a little-known Islamic community in Israel. Four images from his collection were shortlisted for the 161st edition of the Royal Photographic Society’s International Photography Exhibition. The 2017 Award funded Kirsty Mackay’s project ‘The Fish That Never Swam’, investigating the fraught relationship between health and social housing in Glasgow; six images from this collection have been acquired for the national collection of National Galleries Scotland. For the 2018 Award, photographer Chrystal Ding travelled to Rwanda to document the therapeutic process for survivors of the 1994 genocide. Her resulting set, ‘Yours is Going to Be Healed As Well’, was published by the BBC. Laura Page, who won in 2020, created ‘The Hidden Depths’, portraits and stories of older Britons which subvert ageist stereotypes and shine fresh light on later life. The work has been showcased on the BBC and was exhibited in Sheffield earlier this year.

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