Sleeping Man Photo Wins BJP Award but Gets Bashed by Readers

The British Journal of Photography announced recently that South African photographer Michelle Sank’s image “Man asleep on the Golden Mile, Durban, South Africa.” had won the single image category of its International Photography Award.

The image, which shows a man asleep in a park just off the Golden Mile in Durban, was described by judges Nick Galvin, Bruno Ceschel and Diane Smyth as both surreal and disturbing, and was picked out from 338 other entries because of its quiet, enduring intensity. “The more I look at it, the more powerful it becomes,” commented Galvin, who manages the archive at Magnum London.

The announcement prompted quite a bit of activity in the comments. Here’s a selection:

Wait, what? This is about as powerful as my pinky finger. Is this a joke/hoax?

Is this some sort of joke? I’m afraid this is a terrible picture of poverty. You people really do need a reality check. What planet are you on?

I’m not gonna beat around the bush. The image is rubbish and says nothing at all about poverty.
If this is what is judged to be a great photograph then one has to ask who the hell was doing the judging?
Considering the thousands of breath taking photos, taken this shouldn’t even be on the list.
Like most photographers, who make a living selling their work that photo would not even be downloaded from my card had I taken it.
Utter crap.

Looks like a Flickr “pro” image to me!
No wonder the business is going west..The public perception must be (in reality) “hey is that a winning image?..
Geee I can do that” And thus one more six inch nail gets rammed into the coffin of professional photography…
Makes me seeth :-)

Photos such as this mock photography, erode its credibility, and do a terrible disservice to those photographers who put real skill and effort into their work.
This is nothing more than a happy snap of a lunchtime sleeper, one of thousands you will find all around the world at midday. Disturbing? Gimme a break!

What do you think of this photograph?

(via The Online Photographer)

Update: One of the judges has posted a response to the criticism.

Image credit: Man asleep on the Golden Mile, Durban, South Africa by Michelle Sank

  • jane

    Shitty photo, and you are an idiot.

  • Jane

    LMAO what an idiot!

  • Jane

    well, I like it. its disturbingly “bland” and not something with decent exposure and any composition whatsoever.

  • David Reid

    Basically it is a non-descript image of a man lying on some grass. The photo fails to tell a story. The composition lacks elements that give us more information about who, where or why.

  • martinlbb

    Awful… This is the kind of picture only helpful for Photoshop autofill exercise… !

  • Jasmine


  • PaulDD

    Utter Crap! Do Magnum not have anything to say about this? one of their people was involved in choosing it and I belive that reflects badly on them.
    Unbelievable Absolute Rubbish


    This is precisely the problem most people commenting here have with this picture. If its value comes from its title, it should have won a copywriting contest, not a photography award. On its own, it’s a flat picture.

  • brian

    I get nothing from this photo

  • Mark Wheadon

    It’s weak — judging this a winner makes the competition look like a lottery.


  • Robin

    I personally don’t get it…

  • popmonkey

    i read it and part of me definitely agrees with myrna. i’m so tired of recycled images of poverty. if one more person brings up “migrant mother” as a comparison i’m going to be sick. poverty is NOT beautiful. *real* poverty is ugly and above all – totally misunderstood.

    people look at “migrant mother” and praise its deep meaning – the great depression defined in a lot of ways and yeah, it *is* a wonderful wonderful photograph, but it also is one that in a way allows the affluent (that would be all of you here) to feel better about themselves because you see a drunk homeless guy on a street and you just want to get away from them, you don’t give a shit about how they got there, assume the worst, and forget that real poor people suffer daily and escape and hide in the bottle… praising the begging mother and their trained children makes you feel better. it allows you to lie to yourself that you do actually care…

    again, disclaimer: i still think this photo is weak and totally meaningless out of context.

  • Steve

    Does it show a sense of the person? A sense of the place? Anything about poverty? How do we know it is even on the Golden Mile? It looks more like Clapham Common to me! Very weak!

  • Ghost

    Near desert at most times? Which South Africa are you talking about? Durban is a lush, tropical environment. Don’t state things as fact that you know nothing about.


    I just found this gallery of pics from India: (Warning: Graphic)
    Half of those photos are more worthwhile of a prize than the one above, and make a better point about poverty (and cultural difference) without needing any context.


    I just found this gallery of pics from India: (Warning: Graphic)
    Half of those photos are more worthwhile of a prize than the one above, and make a better point about poverty (and cultural difference) without needing any context.

  • Chunkyfeather

    Im sure this photo is a direct result of bad cropping, the good stuff is to the right.

  • Ianlivesey

    It is art. We are talking about it. It is successful art.

    Terrible photograph though.

  • ZDW

    i love it. chut. up.

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  • Fabiusz

    Do not try to find hidden meaning. This picture is total crap. We should boycott this award…

  • Fenriq

    I would view this as a throwaway photo if I’d taken it. There’s nothing in it that conveys anything but a lack of subject. This won a prestigious award? Why? How? It does not convey a sense of poverty, it does not convey a sense of anything but WTF? Boo on the judges for this one.

  • Koski17

    Had it not been chosen and plastered in our faces by winning an award, it would have never received more than a handful of views and likely not a single comment.

  • Shukri Adams

    What a terrible, terrible photo.

  • Daniel Austin Hoherd

    I agree completely. I guess that makes it paradoxical meta-art which is self-fulfilling. Art is so dumb sometimes.

  • John Kantor

    How on earth did they manage to judge this contest with their heads up their ***es?

  • Larry Fleming

    All her photos on here gallery represent a level of artistic ability defined by a child with a point and shoot camera.