Former student Jana Mai wins the VGH Photo Award 2023.

For her photo series “Because I’ve always been James,” she accompanied a young trans man for several months.

For her bachelor thesis "Because I've always been James", Jana Mai accompanied a young trans man.
Photo from the work "Because I've always been James" by winner Jana Mai
Photo by Jana Mai
Photo: Jana Mai

The search for our own identity is a central part of our lives. But how much of it is actually self-determined? Jana Mai’s work is a sensitive exploration of the identity of James – a young trans man on his way to a self-determined self. For several months, Jana Mai accompanied James. In subtle and sensitive moments, she succeeded in capturing the nuances of his personality development.

With a prize money of 10,000 euros, the VGH Insurance Photo Award is one of the highest endowed awards in the field of photography nationwide. This year it will be awarded for the 16th time exclusively among the students of the Visual Journalism and Documentary Photography programme at Hannover University of Applied Sciences Visual Journalism and Documentary Photography programme Arts (HsH). With its exclusive sponsorship, VGH Versicherungen supports the internationally renowned course of study, which has a focus on visual journalism and documentary photography that is unique in Germany.

“We are very happy about the trustful cooperation with VGH Versicherungen, who have been supporting our work in the study program for so many years. Together we can create a great forum for documentary photography in Hannover with the VGH Fotopreis,” says Karen Fromm, professor of the Visual Journalism and Documentary Photography program.

Jury members 2023 (from left to right): Hannah Schuh, Visual Director ART-Das Kunstmagazin; Andreas Trampe, Picture Editor of Stern; Henner Flohr, Picture Editor F.A.Z.; Barbara Stauss, Studio Stauss and Reporters Without Borders; Cale Garrido, Author and Curator of Photography; Lara Huck, Picture Editor DIE ZEIT. Not in the picture: A representative of VGH. Photo: Tobias Eineder

Statement of the jury

“Even at first glance, one senses the trust that the photographer has built up over months with the protagonist. Mai takes us into private and family spaces, to friends and into James’ professional environment as a musician. He is seen in every picture, and yet this work manages to remain exciting and to illuminate the different facets of his life. Mai respectfully accompanies even the most intimate moments with her camera. She uses the image descriptions to also let James himself have his say – they reflect her photographic gaze. James’ life experiences are individual, his story unique. At the same time, Mai’s work addresses two themes that are and remain current and relevant: Identity and self-determination.”

A total of 40 students applied for the award this year. The submitted works convinced the jury with their high quality and the diversity of projects and approaches. The award ceremony will be accompanied by an exhibition of the award winners’ work and the finalists of the jury process at the GAF Gallery of Photography.

Honorable mentions for their work were given as finalists in the jury process:

Lasse Branding “Orchestra of Nongkrong”
Jasper Hill “Irmela Mensah-Schramm”
Patrick Slesiona “Maybe tomorrow there will be war again”
Lenny Steinhauer “Castle in the Clouds

Photo: Frederike Finster


Award ceremony and exhibition opening:
December 6, 2023, 7 pm

December 7, 2023 until January 14, 2023

GAF Gallery of Photography Ice Factory
Seilerstraße 15d
30171 Hannover

The gallery is open Thursdays through Sundays, from noon to 6 p.m.

Further information about the VGH Photo Award.

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