As a senior member of the Helsinki Photo Festival, participating in the organization since 2018, and being a member of the jury already in 2019, I must admit that this year’s entries impressed me with the abundance of powerful projects. Picking the winners wasn’t easy, especially as we received a record number of submissions this year. The open call’s topic, Courage, could be interpreted in many ways, which was apparent in the huge variety of submitted materials. The theme of Courage is more than relevant today, in the age of unrest and global catastrophes, filled with suffering and just plain survival for many. However, we tend to forget that even the act of being can be a form of courage from a certain perspective. Being a mother, a member of the LGBT+ community, a non-conformist; fighting cancer, depression, addictions, battling for the freedom of your country, or fleeing war, etc. These are just some of the subjects among the selected projects. It is heartbreaking to see how much suffering there is in the world right now, but the courage of human and non-human beings is inspiring, fascinating, and can give us hope… Photography alone cannot solve the above issues, but it can raise awareness, provoke discussion, and inspire people to be courageous. Alexandra Stroganva (FI)

We had a large number of works to sift through, which is very pleasing that so many took part in the open call. What irritated me was that the theme of Courage was disregarded in more than half of them or simply appeared in the text without any real context. Terms are always stretchable, but they must never shattered. Many works deal with themselves, their own fears and compulsions, and dark abysses that are part of life. However, I personally cannot always find added value from such works: Self-discovery versus relevance. Relevance and a journalistic balanced approach are central for me. Thus, photography gives me a new image, a new point of view, and a perspective on the world that I don’t know and thus I can learn more (or see more). So, it was a clear decision for me to see my award winners, which logically never coincide with the entire jury. Melody Gygax (CH)

After judging through the largest open call we ever had, the festival is happy with the selection of winners. We are giving up-and-coming emerging artists a podium to be seen and to stand out. Overall, the submissions for the theme Courage were breathtaking, touching and critically thought-provoking. Profoundly, I was touched by the diversity of works which widely unraveled ideologies from myths to utopia, nature to gender equality, adventurous lifestyle, memories to present occurrences and crises to suffering, religion, survival and love. Mainly, I have given marks to artists that I could relate the theme’s core idea to and left out all that were not in this scope. Photography is an art and practice for me, thus when well executed, its essence makes life a bit more interesting and insightful and often disclosing the complex nature we live in. New images inspire me to learn something new and make me feel good. Rafael Rybczynski (DK), Artistic Director, Helphoto

 Once again this year, I am truly honored to assist Helsinki Photo Festival together with the other jurors. It took me a lot of time to look through all the entries. I am very interested to see the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic from 2020 on artists and their work. I have also held solo exhibitions and published a book of photographs over the past three years or so, and they have had a great impact on me. This year, the artists’ eyes on issues of ethnicity, poverty, religion, gender, etc., pierced my eyes and heart through their work. However, an even more significant matter is the issue of war and aggression. There were several portfolios that used these issues as themes and subjects. In addition, despite the interesting themes and concepts of the works, some of the works seemed to me to have a weak narrative and purpose of expression by the artists due to the lack of workload. The number of works was large enough, but the content of some of the works was unfortunately lacking. I believe that the power of a photograph is proportional to the amount of work that has gone into it. I gave high marks mainly to those works that were well edited in terms of the number of points and composition, and low marks to those that were not. However, this is not the end of your work. I hope that your work will evolve into even better work in the coming year and beyond. I wish you all the best of luck. Naoya Yoshikawa (JP)

Once again, photographers have shown endless creativity in tackling the topic of Courage. Obviously, there are subject matters that lend themselves naturally to cover this theme, like war zones, social injustice, or people overcoming a severe illness. However, this edition prompted photographers from all over the world to hand in documentary and personal projects that depicted societies overcoming patriarchal structures, fishermen trying to survive on their traditional business in the face of global change, indigenous people seeking an official apology, etc. Seeing images that were created by using hair, fabric, staged photography, the self, and surrealistic elements truly moved our souls. And this is where real change starts. Alexa Becker (DE)

One of the key problems of our contemporary life is the notion of fear. The role of photography, or more broadly, images, is central in this spiral of fear, which leads to extremisms, violence and war. Courage is the ultimate antidote to fear. The shortlist for this year’s Helsinki Photo Festival shows a range of visual reflections that represent Courage as a way of leaning against the wave of fearful images that are delivered to our doorsteps and smartphones every day. Let’s hope they can inspire us to celebrate that we are still alive and to fight for a better world! Moritz Neumüller (AT), Captain, The Curator Ship

Courage is a word that has enlarged its meaning recently in our present: we have faced and we are facing so many challenges on a daily basis that everybody needs to be courageous, and also courage is the primary engine to fight injustices all over the world and to conquer new achievements for everyone. Courage is becoming a sort of equivalent of being human nowadays. That’s the reason why I particularly appreciate this subject as the theme of the 2023 edition of Helsinki Photo Festival. The projects submitted in the open call were resonating widely with the concept of Courage. Lots of projects were so challenging that it has been difficult to choose the final ones. My opinion has been to select the works that contributed to expanding the boundaries of the meaning of courage. Therefore I believe photographic projects can be a powerful way for everybody to unveil and understand our uncertain complex reality. Emanula Mirabelli (IT)

The courage it takes to express one’s own individual being shines through the chosen photo projects of Helsinki Photo Festival 2023. Living our lives together and apart, in mutual respect, can seem both so simple and so difficult in the world these days. The photographers showing their work here document the many ways people decide to find their own space in a multifaceted world and share intimate and personal stories and visions from their own lives. And in doing so they also help the viewer understand how the world is experienced by others, inspiring us all to find our own courage to live according to our own dreams. Stig Marlon Weston (NO)