FEATURE: Selected Favourites from Critical Mass 2023

6 o'clock Mass © Kevin Moore

This year we’re pleased to be able to support Photolucida’s Critical Mass once again. Critical Mass invites photographers at any level, from anywhere in the world, to submit a portfolio of 10 images. From 1000s of entries, a pre-selection committee narrows it down to 200 photographers, whose images are then voted on by the jury, before the Top 50 is announced.

Once again, Shutter Hub Creative Director Karen Harvey was a juror, and we’re supporting the awards with a year’s Shutter Hub membership and portfolio review for one photographer. Here we share some of the Top 50 photographers whose work caught Karen’s eye. These photographers are Ann Prochilo, Shao-Feng Hsu, Kevin Moore and Jaume Llorens i Bach.

We were also able to invite some of the Critical Mass entrants to take part in Shutter Hub OPEN 23/24, which launches on 27 November at Cambridge University and will feature images by Tracy Barbutes, Loren Nelson, Ann Prochilo, Christopher Valentine, and Julya Hajnoczky. Find out more about Shutter Hub OPEN 23/24 here, and if you’d like to join us for our exhibition launch event and photo Book & Zine Fair, let us know by sending us your RSVP here.


Red © Ann Prochilo

Periscope © Ann Prochilo

Ann Prochilo

This Is Water explores self-awareness and its nemeses: blind certitude and unconsciousness. It is inspired by a story shared by David Foster Wallace in a commencement speech: “There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning, boys. How’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?’”

I love this parable and its reminder that essential things are all around us, hidden in plain sight. I use water to depict moments that precede transformation — those potent and vulnerable moments before something emerges or does not. Water reveals and water hides. It points to ways in which we are ego-deluded and dissociated from ourselves — drawn to a siren’s call.

I work above and below the surface, shifting mediums and bending light. My goal is to make images that are visually seductive but off-key — a world above the surface projecting one reality and another below, disassembled, and reconfigured — another universe. Most underwater kits minimize optical distortions caused by light passing through water. I want to amplify and wield them to create something ambiguous and illusory — the more refraction, diffusion, reflection, and scattered light, the better.

I use subterfuge to talk about delusion and awakening. The dissonance speaks to me of that uncomfortable, but necessary, place that can challenge complacency, wake you up and move you to act. The struggle for transformation defines each person’s journey between unconsciousness and self-awareness. Our task is to wake to ourselves and the waters in which we swim so that we may choose the right action in the world. For me, that means not foundering in a sea of willful ignorance or being rendered mute by those who would drown my voice. And like our two young fish, it means swimming along, constantly reminding myself that “this… is water.”


Night Swimming 2 © Shao-Feng Hsu

Night Swimming 10 © Shao-Feng Hsu

Shao-Feng Hsu

On the darkest nights during new moons, I created Night Swimming, breathe photograms. While holding my breath underwater, I exhaled rings of air. Sensing my breath channel upward through the water, I used a flash to make exposures of the bubbles onto light-sensitive paper floating right below the water’s surface. The shape of the bubbles made visible not only my lung capacity but also the essence of life: Breath. As a kid growing up with asthma, I learned to swim to strengthen my respiratory system. I was instructed to submerge and hold my breath for a few seconds before coming up for air. I did this repeatedly with different but consistent rhythms.

I wondered how to make a photograph that translated my physical experience with water. I wanted to make work that captures the inexplicable, but complex sensation of being in the water. Looking at paintings of a pool or a photograph of a coastline is nothing like diving into water. Is it possible to create a photograph that embodies this experience of physical immersion?

What does it mean to look at photographs of breath? The bubble in the photogram has a correlation to the depth of the water and the distance from the bubble ring to the photographic paper. The deeper I blow, the bigger the bubble appears. The shape of the bubble also has a direct association with my lung capacity. The work highlights the experiential elements of my process. As I was soaked in the water along with the paper, my senses amplified. I can’t see, but I can feel it. I rely on the vibration of the water. It gives me a sense of orientation and gravity.


Don’t Yet Know What Car I Drive © Kevin Moore

6 o’clock Mass © Kevin Moore

Kevin Moore

Influenced by my own queer experience and ideals of mid-century American culture, the images in this work investigate a familiar domestic environment that also alludes to the enigmatic. Creating vignettes of this space and time allows for the images to exist in perceived reality while simultaneously remaining fictitious.

Film is a type of cultural performance. Films, alongside vernacular media of the 1950s and 60s, influence much of my work, which I acutely reference to investigate the ways in which our culture may or may not have shifted in the last half-century. Through this work, I’m exploring masculinity as a way to question cultural ideas surrounding gender, more specifically the performance of masculinity in juxtaposition to our current political landscape.

Through making work about one’s control of their environment, I am able to create a safe space for the narrative to unfold; purposely diverting from what may be considered conventional representation. The characters become distant protagonists as the environment created allows the viewer to interact as a voyeur.


Gaia 07 © Jaume Llorens i Bach

Gaia 10 © Jaume Llorens i Bach

Jaume Llorens i Bach

My work is the result of moments of silence observing nature and the surrounding landscape. An intimate and contemplative approach to celebrate its beauty or the magic it gives us. An attempt to convey the emotional or aesthetic impact that this contact provokes; or sometimes to reflect more or less explicitly my own emotional landscape. I feel comfortable with simple, sometimes very minimal images that suggest rather than explain. And infinitely happy when someone recognises traces of poetry in my photographs.

This series takes its name from a hypothesis by James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis that describes Earth as a single superorganism in which living beings and the rest of the planet establish a self-regulating equilibrium that ensures the survival of the whole.

The series consists of diptychs created by juxtaposing two photographs of natural elements found in my local environment. These elements generate a third image that combines the two photographs into a harmonious whole, which differs from the simple sum of its parts as described by Ralph Gibson in his concept of the “Overtone.” New and balanced realities can be created from this simple juxtaposition.

Gaia aims to reflect on the need to re-establish our connection with nature that has been neglected for too long, and to feel like a responsible part of this marvellous system once again to ensure the survival of our planet.


Find out more about Photolucida’s Critical Mass, and view the Top 50 Critical Mass finalists’ work here.



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