Abbey Road Studios in London is launching its own Music Photography Awards this year, the first-ever global competition celebrating "unforgettable, unique and unsung" music moments of the past 12 months and the photographers who captured them.
The world's most famous recording studio aims to celebrate the spirit of music scenes across the globe with the launch of the inaugural Abbey Road Studios Music Photography Awards (MPAs). The new event is the first of its kind to recognise the art of music photography and will be judged by an esteemed global panel of industry creatives. Photographers of all levels will be honoured across a series of categories, kicking off with the Hennessy Championing Scenes Award – an open-entry category spotlighting the vibrancy of global subcultures and the people documenting the gritty underbelly of these burgeoning scenes.
Amongst the judges is Simon Wheatley, an acclaimed photographer deemed one of the most important chroniclers of London's youth. He spent 12 years documenting grime culture, and his resulting book Don't Call Me Urban! The Time of Grime, published in 2010, has been hailed as a classic of British documentary photography. "I had no idea what was going on, and I'm pleased I didn't because that gave me a purity which may have been compromised had I known I was capturing something valuable," Simon tells Creative Boom.
"I was fascinated by the rawness of that aggressive sound emanating from decaying concrete blocks. It was the voice of an underclass, Thatcher's unwanted children living in a harsh individualistic world where the concept of 'community' had become so threatened. But despite that individualism, there was a legacy of togetherness that one doesn't see anymore. The youth clubs were packed with people congregated in stairwells, street corners and squares. I miss that. The smartphone has heightened that individualism and made us less communal. What hasn't changed is the chaos of peoples' lives."
Since those days, Simon has continued his work around the grime scene, as a photographer and filmmaker, and 2022 sees him preparing to release a more comprehensive book that will cover the genre's evolution up to the present day. In 2018, he was invited to be the in-house photographer at London's Abbey Road Studios.
Also on the Championing Scenes judging panel is the renowned British photographer and director Rankin, Ghanaian-American artist and multidisciplinary creative Moses Sumney, East London's visionary musician and DJ Shygirl, legendary photography and Rockarchive founder Jill Furmanovsky, pioneering music photographer Dana Scruggs, Rolling Stone Deputy Photo Director Sacha Lecca, and Abbey Road Studios MD Isabel Garvey. As the category sponsor, Hennessy will award the Championing Scenes winner a package of support, including the opportunity to collaborate on an international project with the brand in 2023.
"I'm interested not just in the music itself, but where it's coming from," Simon says of the Awards. "Subcultures emerge from cracks in society, and that's what fascinates me most. Grime reflected a youthful discontent, and when I began to hear it, I wanted to capture the place of angst and alienation from which it sprung. I believe that a documentarian of musical subculture should reveal the social texture of the sound. I'm excited to celebrate the insights of other photographers into the movements they chronicle. Grime was a great adventure – for me, that's what photography has always been about."
Alongside the Championing Scenes category, the Awards invites emerging and established photographers from across the globe to enter three further open-entry categories: the Studio Photography Award will celebrate images that capture the magic that happens when musicians come together to write, experiment or record a Live Music Photography Award for images documenting live music moments in 2021 and the Undiscovered Photographer of the Year recognising the best emerging, unsung talent.
Entries for the Music Photography Awards are now open and can be entered by photographers at all stages of their career via the official website until midnight on 21 March 2022. The winners of all nine categories will be unveiled and celebrated at an official ceremony on Saturday, 14 May 2022, hosted at Abbey Road Studios.