When we saw the winners of the Sony World Photography Awards, we were excited (and not at all surprised) to see a familiar name: Nyree Cox, a student of GPP, who won first place for Saudi Arabia in the National Awards category for her image: Riyadh Entrepreneurs.
We caught up with Nyree to ask how she got here, and where she's going next.
Hi Nyree! Would you mind introducing yourself?
I'm an Australian photographer living in Saudi Arabia. I love everything about photography, I always have, I love the storytelling that imagery provides. The world is so noisy, so busy and I enjoy the silence of photography. The absence of words is powerful - that imagery can be interpreted in many ways and creates discussion is so fantastic. I love the elements of space, time and place that photography captures. I detest humidity and inequality. I adore the ocean, yoga, travelling and feta cheese. My work is part time freelance in Riyadh and regional Saudi. I love exploring my new country and learning and observing through my work. I am just a wife and a mum with a camera on the ride of my life.
1st place in the Sony WPA for Saudi? Wow! Tell us about your photography journey. Where/when/how did you start?
As a young child I was always taking photos, always at the Kodak store to collect the next roll of film for developing, always looking at life through the lens of a camera... different angles, looking up, looking down. I have always been the person at any event with my camera in other people's faces. I spent 17 years working for the government in Australia as an Urban Planner but it was never my passion. I had gifted some images to friends for their weddings and birthdays, the feedback was positive and I always daydreamed of doing this work fulltime but was never brave enough to take the leap. I was on the mortgage, school fees, secure employment wheel and I couldn't get off. Five years ago my family moved to Saudi Arabia and it was my chance to do what I love. I enrolled in the Foundation Course at GPP and would fly over to Dubai from Riyadh for my fix of all things photography. I adored every second of my time at GPP. A trip to Alserkal Avenue was literally like putting oxygen into my lungs. I loved being in the classroom with other like minded people. Back in Riyadh I was selling my prints of Saudi on greeting cards and on canvas. The expat market in Riyadh wanted photos of camels and I gave them many, many camels. But it was boring. The pressure to become "commercial" turned my passion into a hassle and I decided to stop that and focus on my craft. My creativity returned and I took photos for me, not for a potential customer or particular market. There is that struggle or perception that you must be paid to be good at what you do? Once I ditched that idea the freelance work starting finding me. Work that really stimulates and interests me. I spent 6 months working on my portfolio and doing volunteer photographic work. I created my website, entered every competition available to increase my exposure, worked on my confidence, had a few secret goals to achieve but mostly I just took photos for the sheer joy of it. And with that joy came the work.
How did the winning portrait come about?
When I am not working I give myself a photo project to complete. This one was about the proliferation of roadside vendors in Riyadh. I find life on the streets in Riyadh so interesting. There is so much activity, so many stories, so much that is so different to the streets of Australia. The winning image was taken in northern Riyadh on a Thursday afternoon. We turned a corner and there was a large group of makeshift tea stands erected alongside a highway selling homemade items to passing traffic. All the vendors were female and that was the initial attraction. I purchased a tea from these particular women, and we started communicating (my Arabic is terrible and their English isn't great) but with the help of a friend translating, I asked if I could photograph them. Their names are Om Eid and Reem Rasheed and they are neighbours that sell their sweets each afternoon to supplement the family income. Om is a mother to 10 children and Reem has 2 sons. They have been setting up out here in all weather conditions for the past 3 years. They make about 50AUD a day. Both are very different personalities and even though they are covered I feel I have them figured out... To have their image recognised (Sony World Photo Comp, Pink Lady Food Photography Award - Street Food, Lonely Planet June 2019 Edition, 13th Julia Margaret Cameron Award for Women Photographers) and exhibited allows me the platform to share their story and so many like them. It is an honour and a privilege. These women are true entrepreneurs and I salute them.
What draws you to the photographic medium as opposed to any other?
The silence of the craft. The fact that it is subjective, that is doesn't necessarily require a wordy description, that it creates discussion, enables continual learning and it can influence the emotions or opinions of the observer. Photography is powerful. It can bring about change and can educate so many and I like that.
What do you want the viewer of your images to feel or think when contemplating your work?
I would like to think that my images inform the observer and that they create questions or discussion. (tricky question!)
Any advice for new or seasoned photographers?
Enroll at GPP - it was the best thing I ever did. I have done several workshops in other countries and the content and quality of tuition at GPP is far superior. Then enter every single competition you can - your image may not be selected but the process of entering makes you really think about your imagery and what it is you are trying to achieve. Do some volunteer work, get your portfolio sorted and take photos every single day. Somedays I take photos of blades of grass or something I am cooking - it doesn't have to be an exotic location or newsworthy content - it's about getting that camera out of the bag and using it every single day. I leave my camera on my kitchen table where it is visible. I experiment with different settings and just have fun.
What are you working on now?
I am working in a personal project "exploring definitions of portraiture", and what defines a good portrait, and do you require a face to create a portrait of someone.
Two group exhibitions - Chania International Photo Festival (Crete), 16-24 August 2019; and the 13th Julia Margaret Cameron Award for Women Photographers (Winner Single Image - Women Seen by Women) in Barcelona, Oct 9-26 2019.
To see more work from Nyree Cox, find her on Instagram @nyree_cox,
or visit her website here: https://www.piktureit.net