Leica Oskar Barnack Award 2010: Jens Olof Lasthein „Waiting for the future - pictures from Abkhazia“

Winner 2010: Jens Olof Lasthein

The first prize in this year’s highly prestigious photographic competition, the ‘Leica Oskar Barnack Award 2010’, goes to the Swedish photographer Jens Olof Lasthein. His award-winning portfolio entitled ‘Waiting for the future – pictures from Abkhazia’ tells the story of the people of the Republic of Abkhazia in the Southern Caucasus.

Although the Republic of Abkhazia – the central theme of the winning portfolio – has gained its independence after a period of unrest and civil war, it is still considered to be a part of Georgia under international law. A politically complex situation that is also reflected in the everyday life of the region. The future of the people there is just as uncertain as that of their home country. It is precisely this uncertainty that Lasthein has captured in his photography.

The Cold War years have left their marks on Abkhazia; the future was simply frozen in time. And this is the state in which the region still finds itself today, because the political situation not only hinders the reconstruction of the region, but also cuts its inhabitants off from the rest of the world. So the people wait, trapped between despair and the joyful expectation of a happier future. The portfolio shows the desolate reality: the beaches of Sukhum, the capital city, formerly crowded with holidaymakers from throughout the Soviet Union, are now almost deserted. The ruined houses and overgrown gardens of the small coastal town Ochamchira appear to have been abandoned. And Tkuarchal, the once thriving industrial centre, is now a place of devastated factories and high unemployment. Life in Abkhazia has come to a standstill. Any aims, dreams or plans simply shatter due to the lack of opportunities. ‘For me, it is much more important that my pictures capture visual insights into life in all its facets than to simply record the bare facts. To capture life as far as possible in all its complexity and diversity – so that my pictures tell their own, sweeping and varied stories,’ says the photographer, explaining his work.

Jens Olof Lasthein

Jens Olof Lasthein was born 1964 and has been working as a freelance photographer since 1992. He has held about 50 solo exhibitions around the world and published three books: Moments in Between about the Balkan wars in the 90ies, White Sea Black Sea about the borderland between eastern and western Europe, Home Among Black Hills with pictures from Charleroi in Belgium. His fourth book, Meanwhile Across the Mountain, with pictures from the Caucasus will be published during 2016 and will include the series from Abkhazia with which he won the Leica Oskar Barnack Award in 2010.