19-year-old Lily Dawson-Punshon

A Newcastle College (@NCLCollege) student has been announced as the first winner of a @Sony international photography award that celebrates female photographers.

19-year-old Lily Dawson-Punshon has beat professional photographers from across the world to be named as the first ever recipient of Sony World Photography's Alpha Female Award, after she was encouraged to submit the photo as part of a college assignment.

“To be shortlisted for the Alpha Female Award was quite possibly the proudest moment in my life so far,” says Lily.

“It’s absolutely astonishing to me that I would even be considered, but actually winning it has really made me feel like any of my dreams can become a reality. Surreal is the only word I can use. I feel euphoric!”

Sony’s World Photography Awards has been one of the biggest and most prestigious annual competitions for photographers across the world since it was established 13 years ago. It recognises the best contemporary photography in the world and aims to help established photographers take the next step in their career while promoting undiscovered talent.

Just two years ago, Lily couldn’t have imagined her photographs would soon feature in a list of Sony World Photography winners. Always home-schooled, Lily honed her talent by photographing her hometown in Country Durham before deciding to pursue her passion professionally and enrolling on a Level 3 Extended Diploma in Photography at Newcastle College in 2018.

“When I was a child, I used to live in the middle of nowhere surrounded by countryside,” she explains.

“The first photograph I remember taking was of my first cat, Felix. When we lost him, those photos meant a lot to me and it made me realise how beautiful capturing memories through photography can be.

“I began to photograph the woodland trails as often as I could, which definitely ignited my passion for capturing the world around me. Luckily my home-schooling didn’t really have a lot of structure, so I was able to dedicate a lot of my time to photography.”

Despite no formal education under her belt, Lily enrolled at Newcastle College in the hope that it would provide her with the chance to develop her skills and have more opportunity, but she never expected it to lead to a global award.

She continues: “I had heard incredible things about the creative industry facilities at Newcastle College, as well as the amazing opportunities they could provide me with.

“Luckily, the College was so understanding and adaptable when they discovered I had no prior formal education. The lecturers really made sure I felt comfortable and that I was working at the right level, so I knew straight away that it would be the right choice for me.

“I have absolutely loved the course and the structure it has provided me with. The best project I’ve worked on is the one in which I produced my Sony shot. The entire project was based around the photography studio and I was able to experiment with lighting and post-production.

“Funnily enough, I almost forgot to submit the photo into the Sony Photography Awards, so I’m really thankful to my lecturers at Newcastle College for supporting and encouraging me to enter. I wouldn’t be here without them!”

This year’s Sony Photography Awards imagery celebrates individual ways of seeing the world and includes the brand new Alpha Female Award, a category introduced to celebrate the strength of the female photographer.

The photo that won Lily the title of Alpha Female formed part of her second-year coursework and is an untitled recreation of Johannes Vermeer’s The Girl with the Pearl Earring.

“I’ve replaced the pearl earring with an earphone,” says Lily. “It represents the progression of society and technology and how much the human race has evolved in such a short space of time.

“I was initially inspired by the work of a degree student at Newcastle College University Centre, which explored the style of historical portraiture with the attire being made from used car parts. I wanted to explore this further and show an appreciation for what we have evolved from and what we’re now able to do with modern resources and technology.”

Catherine Shield, Lily’s photography lecturer at Newcastle College added:

“Lily has accomplished so much during her time at Newcastle College and I am so proud of her.

“To even reach the final of such a prestigious competition was an amazing achievement. She is very talented and fully deserved to win, I have no doubt she is going to go far in her career as a photographer.”

Lily’s image was originally entered into the Open Competition but was automatically considered for the Alpha Female Award alongside every other female photographer who entered. This meant that Lily’s image beat competition from across the globe, including professionals, to be announced as the winner on 9 June 2020.

Now, without a formal awards ceremony being held for the first time in its 13-year history, Sony has instead created a digital showcase of the best images entered into this year’s competition. The image will also be exhibited in Somerset House in London as part of the Sony World Photography Awards 2020 Exhibition. Originally due to go on display from 17 April - 4 May 2020, the exhibition will now be rescheduled to a date it is deemed safe to go ahead.

“Engaging with Sony and seeing all of the shortlisted work has brought me a sense of female togetherness and empowerment,” says Lily. “It feels incredible to be a part of something which makes a difference to women's lives and careers.

“I’m due to finish college this year and in September I’ll be starting a Fashion Photography degree at Leeds Art University. I think my time at Newcastle College and my experience with Sony has taught me that I need to take more chances and participate in opportunities that I might not have before.

“I really don’t know where this is going to take me but I’m very excited for the journey.”

Alpha Female Winning Portrait Lily Dawson Punshon Copy

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