Global Photography Competition celebrates 20 years

The photos help showcase Carolina’s focus on global education and service programs, as well as the breadth of the University community’s international experiences

Little boy on a horse under stormy skies
"Parting on Tea-Horse Trading Road," China. (By Xiaofei Wang ’13)

When Carolina’s Global Photography Competition launched 20 years ago, the contest’s judges received just a handful of hard copy photos from a smattering of students, faculty, staff and alumni.

This year, with the contest now open for submissions, the judging committee is anticipating as many as 900 digital entries by its Sept. 15 deadline from Tar Heels all over the world.

The competition’s evolution has gone hand-in-hand with Carolina’s focus on global education and service programs, as well as the breadth of the University community’s international experiences, said Ingrid Smith, events and exhibitions manager for UNC Global.

“The vast diversity of the images we receive every year and the experiences they reflect is always incredibly impressive to me,” she said.

As more and more Tar Heels are given opportunities to experience the world, the photo contest enables them to capture a sense of place through compelling visuals and to share their global experiences with others. Winning photographs are displayed each spring in the FedEx Global Education Center.

“Through the annual exhibition, we are introducing visitors to world regions they may not have been familiar with,” Smith said. “Maybe it serves as a catalyst to get students to start thinking about study abroad or other global opportunities available to them at Carolina. Maybe a community member is able to connect with one of our area studies centers to learn more about their programming and outreach. We hope the exhibition piques interest and even serves as inspiration for all.”

Smith also hopes that the Global Photography Contest encourages participants to think more deeply about the subjects and communities they are documenting.

“It can be difficult to articulate the impact a global experience had,” Smith said. “The competition allows students, faculty and staff to use photography to capture a facet of a culture or experience far better than they may be able to simply describe in words.”

Below are some of the competition’s top photos from the past several years.

People walk the beach under cloudy sky

“O Povo da Ipanema,” Brazil. (By Maximillian Seunik ’15)

Photos are judged on artistic merit, but also on whether the photographer used his or her artistic platform to take a nuanced approach to his or her subject, rather than relying on simplistic or stereotypical narratives.

The competition seeks to feature work that reflects deep consideration and respect for the emotional, political, economic, cultural or social circumstances of its subject.

A man runs on top of a still train

“Indian Train Station,” India. (By Robert Gourley ’18)

Selecting a winner from so many entries isn’t easy.

A committee made up of staff members from Global Relations, Study Abroad and the Center for Global Initiatives recruits judges from across campus to narrow the submissions down to a top 100. After rounds of in-person voting sessions, the group members select as many as 12 top photos before casting their votes for first through third place.

Rocky landscape

“A Timeless Stone Forest,” Peru. (By Carolina Valder ’17)

Interim Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz will also get in on the judging, as each year the chancellor chooses three favorite photos be awarded a Chancellor’s Choice Award and be displayed in the FedEx Center and South Building.

A man tosses a net out over the lake at sunset

“Local is Global,” North Carolina. (By Ryan Seguin ’17)

Students, faculty, staff and alumni will also compete for top honors in different world regions and in thematic spotlights. This year’s categories include Global Celebrations and Festivals, First Time Abroad and Learning Moments.

“In honor of the competition’s 20th anniversary, we have incorporated a new category, Global Celebrations and Festivals,” Smith said. “Our hope is that it will be a way for participants to share how cultures and world regions mark special occasions as we celebrate a milestone ourselves.”

Mischievous young buddhist monks amuse themselves from the boredom of afternoon lessons while attending class

“Boys Will Be Boys,” Myanmar. (By Ian Lye ’07)

While the competition is stiff, Smith said, Tar Heels don’t need to be professionals to enter. Amateur cell phone photos have won in the past.

This year’s top winner will receive a GoPro camera to document their travels. Runner-up and theme winners will see their work displayed in the exhibition.

Cuban boys use payphones March 10, 2017, in the Regla district of Havana, Cuba.

“Cuban Phone Booth,” Cuba. (By Veasey Conway ’18)