Touching photographs

Young photographers in Denmark and the USA have been inspired by the fantastic story of Jacob A. Riis and his photographs and give their take on how the camera can change our view of the world. Ten of the results can be seen in a small, new exhibition until 31 August.

In the spirit of Jacob A. Riis, in 2022 we published a photo competition for young people between 13-18 years of age. It was supported by Jacob A Riis’s great-great-granddaughter Lela Riis Usry and her husband David Agnew, both residents of New York, and was given the title Jacob A. Riis Photography Award 2022. The participants had to live in either Denmark or the USA and answer the question: “How are you using your camera to make the world a better place?”

The competition ran over the summer and autumn of 2022, and we received 48 entries in total. The ten best together with the young people’s thoughts behind their particular photograph, can now be seen in a small exhibition in our yard.

Winners of Jacob A. Riis Photography Award 2022

1st place: Johari Myeisha Green, United States

2nd place: Constance Birkelund Jensen-Johansen, Danmark (1st photo underneath)

3rd place: Nikolai Løkkegaard, Danmark

4th place & 5. place: Tim Bertram Fisker Gedby  Denmark (Photo above)

6th place: Mathilde Apollo Vandkrog Ladegaard, Denmark

7th place: Katinka Rigmor Kristensen, Denmark

8th place: Albert Egebro Therkelsen, Denmark

9th place: Emilie Augustina Horne Jepsen, Denmark

10th place: Talisa Vega, United States (2nd photo underneath)

The Riis approach

At the end of the 19th century, Danish Jacob A. Riis did something that no one before him had done. He used his camera to show the American how terrible the conditions were for the thousands of poor emigrants who, in the latter half of the 19th century, traveled from poverty and hunger in Europe to seek fortune in the promised land of America.

Jacob A Riis became decisively important for the Americans’ view of the emigrants, because the new medium – photography – gave a completely new visual perspective on what you could otherwise only read about.

The Dane from Ribe thus not only helped to change the conditions for the better for New York’s poor emigrants, but also to inspire other Europeans to use their cameras in new ways.

About Jacob A. Riis Photography Award 2022

The 2022 Jacob A. Riis Photography Award was aimed at young photographers aged 13-18 who by their talent, creativity and community-building spirit wanted to make the world a better place using their cameras.

While technical skill and originality are important, this award also seeks to support the spirit, vision, energy, and passion of Jacob A. Riis who believed photography to be one of the most powerful ways to tell a story, provide hope, bring light to darkness, and educate and inspire people.

Riis was a self-taught photographer who never considered himself a professional photographer– though his images helped to build safer, healthier, and more just communities in New York and around the world.

The contestants were told that:

Applicants would:

  • Have a unique lens on life,
  • Look at the world around them from a distinct perspective,
  • Want others to see what they see,
  • Feel healthy while taking photos,
  • Share their photos so others can “go” places they cannot go on their own.

Applicants would believe a photo can:

  • Inspire
  • Educate
  • Heal
  • Encourage

They were asked to attach a short statement to each of their photos, explaining why their photo(s) can inspire, educate, heal and/or encourage others to action. Does the photo encourage the viewer to want to know more? To be kinder? To want to share what they learned from the photo?

The ten photographs were selected by a jury in December 2022 consisting of:

• Flemming Just, Director of Museum of Southwest Jutland
• Alan Levinthal, The American Ambassador in Denmark
• Thilde Jensen, Professional Photographer
• Dallas Agnew, Descendant of Jacob a Riis and Youth Photographer
• Graysen Pendry, Highschool student, US Citizen
• Astrid Demant Bargisen, Highschool student at Ribe Katedralskole
• Ingeborg Else Emmertsen Lund, Highschool student at Ribe Katedralskole

A special thank you for their generous donation to initializing the prize to:
Lela Riis Usry and David Agnew, Bronxville, New York.