Queensland College of Art alumnus Adam Ferguson has scooped two of the world’s most prestigious photography prizes for his striking portraits of Nigerian girls recruited as suicide bombers by Boko Haram.
Adam was named Photographer of the Year at the Pictures of the Year International competition and took out top prize in the People and Stories category of the World Press Photo awards for the series of images commissioned by The New York Times.
Taking inspiration from a famous Nigerian painting, Adam perfected the set up in his studio in New York before heading to Nigeria, where he shot all 83 portraits in a single day.
“These girls are impoverished and marginalised, but the journeys they had undertaken commanded such bravery,” he said.
“In homage to this bravery I tried to present the women as dignified and beautiful, hoping to transcend the more mainstream narratives we have seen around the Boko Haram phenomenon.”
Adam first gained recognition for his work in 2009 when he embarked on a series documenting the US-led war in Afghanistan. This work received awards from World Press Photo, Pictures of the Year International and Photo District News.
Since that time he has worked in most of the world’s hotspots, from flash points in the Middle East, to civil war zones in Africa and off the beaten track in Australia. His work has been published in the world’s top mastheads, including The New York Times, Time magazine, National Geographic and Vanity Fair.
Adam grew up in Coffs Harbour, and chose to embark on a Bachelor of Photography at the QCA after a chance meeting with a photography alumnus.
“I was looking for something to get me away and for some reason I connected with the idea of being a photographer,” he said.
“It was very whimsical to be honest. I thought I might try to be a surf photographer, but at QCA I soon discovered photojournalism and I knew I had found my calling.”
His advice for aspiring photographers is simple – find your own unique voice.
“The proliferation of digital photography has made everyone a photographer,” he said.
“What will set you apart is not being a great photographer, but being an author. Don’t mimic other work or follow trends, be authentic in who you are and what you are saying.
“The camera is merely a medium for a voice, find that voice. And also, let life experience, film, art and literature inform your work, not other photography.”
Queensland College of Art Photography convenor Dr Heather Faulkner said the success of photography graduates on the world stage reflected the calibre of teaching at the QCA.
“Our Bachelor of Photography prepares students for critical problem solving and life-long learning,” she said.
“We are delighted to see our remarkable alumni taking their place on the world stage.”