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ST photojournalist Neo Xiaobin wins $30,000 Icon de Martell Cordon Bleu photography award

Published on Aug 28, 2014 9:05 PM

Straits Times photojournalist Neo Xiaobin has won Singapore's most coveted photography award, the Icon de Martell Cordon Bleu 2014.

The 30-year-old, who has worked at The Straits Times since 2010, beat six other contenders to claim the $30,000 that comes with the award. It was established five years ago by Martell Cordon Bleu cognac to honour the best in Singapore photography.

At the ceremony held at the National Museum of Singapore on Thursday night, an emotional Neo fought back tears on stage. She said she did not expect to win and thought the award was for "more fine arts type photography".

She said: "I feel there is art in photo-journalism and this award is a reminder of why I do what I am doing."

She was chosen from among seven shortlisted photographers by a five-member jury, led by independent French curator of photography Agnes de Gouvion Saint-Cyr, who said she was looking for something of "international standards".

Magnum photographer Ian Berry, National Gallery Singapore curator Charmaine Toh, artist and teacher Ian Woo and Pernod Ricard Singapore's marketing director Yann Soenen Magnum were the other jury members this year. Pernod Ricard distributes Martell.

Others in the running for this prestigious award with the largest prize here were Eugene Soh, 27; Jeannie Ho, 43; Ken Cheong, 45; Lavender Chang, 30; Wilfred Lim, 26 and Ang Song Nian, 31. Cheong and Ho were awarded the Discernment Award, winning $8,000 each.

The judging was done based on portfolios submitted to the jury, and the award was given based on a body of work.

Neo's submission to the competition included the series Shattered Dreams, 9/11: Ten Years On, Lights And Moments, Last Outfits, Malaysia Decides and Singapore Seconds.

Her nomination was done by The Straits Times photo-editor Stephanie Yeow.

Ms Yeow, 43, said: "Xiaobin's well deserving win is an affirmation that photojournalism is still an appreciated form of photography. I applaud the jury for giving the award to her. Most of the past winners' works have been 'arty' in nature, works that would sit nicely on the walls of art galleries.

"I'm glad that photojournalism is recognised this year."

Jury head de Gouvion Saint-Cyr, 69, said: "She has a gift for explaining the context of her subject and she develops her narration in well composed and subtle images, whether in black and white, or in colour, thus conveying strong emotions and empathy.

"To summarise her work, we can say that she has the gift of a photojournalist working with the vocabulary of an artist."

Over the years, the awards have grown in stature and scale.

In the past, the nominated works have been displayed at art galleries. This year, they made their debut at the National Museum of Singapore, reflecting how the awards have established themselves in five years.

Past winners have included independent photographers and artists Sherman Ong (2010), Sean Lee (2011), Edwin Koo (2012) and Sarah Choo (2013).