‘Azerbaijan – Sport in Focus’ exhibition opens in London

Baku: Azerbaijan’s forthcoming hosting of the inaugural European Games has been placed firmly in the spotlight at the opening of a new exhibition in London’s prestigious OXO Gallery on the South Bank of the Thames.

Opening on 27 February, the Azerbaijan – Sport in Focus exhibition showcases 65 out of 300 photographs from over 50 photographers in 10 countries submitted for a competition of the same name. The exhibition and competition were organised by The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS) with the support of the Baku 2015 European Games Organising Committee (BEGOC).

During the opening, attended by over 100 politicians, diplomats, photographers, and sports aficionados, Lionel Zetter, Director, TEAS, commented: “The European Games will be an historic event for Azerbaijan, as it will be the first opportunity for this young and dynamic country to organise an international sports competition on this level. TEAS is proud that its exhibition Azerbaijan Sport In Focus has received the official support of Baku 2015, the organisers of the European Games. This exhibition showcases the universality and values of sport as Baku prepares to host the Games.”

To be hosted from 12–28 June, the European Games will feature 20 sports – 16 of which are Olympic disciplines. Of these, 12 sports will offer qualification opportunities for the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics. It is thought that more than 6000 athletes from over 50 countries will be hosted in Baku.

First prize was awarded to the experienced Azerbaijani sports photographer Dilavar Najafov for his iconic image Towards Glory, capturing the supreme athleticism of a rhythmic gymnast’s routine. Dilavar has toured the world in order to capture the zenith of sporting achievement with his lens, and has spent nearly two decades working as a staff photographer for the Azerbaijani Ministry of Youth and Sport.

In his acceptance speech, Dilavar commented: “Azerbaijan has now been independent for 24 years, and has achieved much, including being selected to host the European Games. Since Azerbaijan has been able to enter the Olympic Games as an independent country, its athletes have always won two or three gold medals. During the London 2012 Olympics, the country achieved a tally of 10 medals, and we are very proud to host the European Games this year. In the future, I hope my country will be selected to host many more such events.”

The submissions were judged by a panel of three internationally-acclaimed photographers – Ed Kashi, Co-founder of the VII Photo Agency and winner of the 2011 World Press Photo competition; Philipp Rathmer, who is best-known for his celebrity and fashion portraits; and Azerbaijani photographer Agdes Baghirzade, who specialises in capturing the faces and nature of her homeland.

Philipp Rathmer explained the rationale behind the selection of winners and runners-up, saying: “It was difficult to sit on the jury – there were many discussions between the three jurors, due to the high quality of the entries. I feel the selected images are very beautiful and of excellent quality. I am from a different photographic genre to the other jury members, and maybe saw the images from a different point-of-view, and this led many creative discussions.”

Agdes Baghirzade commented: “I was initially apprehensive when I was asked to sit on the jury, as was a big responsibility, and I knew it would be difficult to remain objective when shortlisting images and selecting the winners. These images reflect the first European Games, and my country is doing its best to ensure these Games are perfectly organised. Despite being a very experienced photographer, Dilavar had not previously participated in a photographic competition, and I am delighted that he won.”

The second prizewinner was French photographer and videographer Paul Robion for his outstanding photograph Ipanema – Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), an evocative, sepia-toned virtual silhouette that encapsulates the enormous popularity of football in Brazil. It also connects the European Games with the Rio 2016 Olympics.

The third prize was given to Azerbaijani street photographer Rufat Abas for his photo Final Instructions, which captures a tense moment at the start of a motor race. Rufat’s first book Life in Black and White was published in 2012, and a year later his exhibition Street, Life, Emotion opened in Baku. The first Formula 1 race in Baku will be held in 2016. The exhibition will move to the French National Museum of Sports in Nice on 12 March, before touring Europe.