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Alumni Win Top Prizes in Editorial Photographers’ Education Grants Contest

With their powerful and unique images, two Academy of Art University alumni won top prizes in the Editorial Photographers’ Education Grants Contest. The contest, now in its third year, recognizes and supports emerging photographers.

Photo by Sean DuFrene
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Sean DuFrene received the Grand Prize, and Unnikrishnan Raveendranathan was named Runner-up. Elliot Erwitt, a respected photographer who just won the international Center for Photography’s Infinity Award for Lifetime Achievement, selected both prizes.

Both Sean and Unni will receive a $1,000 grant for their work as well as additional equipment and portfolio tools from the contest’s sponsors.

Completed for Sean’s thesis project, the winning series of photos is called Play Date. It depicts children and fashion models in typical suburban environments such as a playground or a swimming pool. “The series is about children and their relationships with models,” he said. “I wanted to create a fashion series telling a tale of kids and their model friends.”

Photo of Sean DuFrene

Sean’s work combines technical proficiency with creative storytelling. Taking inspiration from store mannequins, the Play Date series depicts models in slightly stiff and awkward poses. “I get tired of seeing the usual hands on the hips thing,” he said. “A couple of years back, W magazine produced their annual Art issue. They had this editorial spread where all the models were posing in such strange ways. I loved it.”

Even while working as Staff Photographer at the San Diego Union-Tribune,  Sean knew he wanted to go back to school for his MFA in Photography so that he could eventually teach at a university level.

Throughout his time at Academy of Art University, Sean won a number of awards, including Student Photographer of the Year in the American Photo Images of the Year Contest and Runner-up in the American Photo Images of the Year Student Photographer Contest. He also exhibited at the Academy’s Spring Show for three years, once winning Best in Show.

Photo by Unnikrishnan Raveendranathan
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The series of black and white photographs of Haiti shortly after the 2010 earthquake for which Unnikrishnan won Runner-up set a very different tone. About 20 days after the earthquake, he traveled to Haiti to get experience in photographing the wake of such a large-scale natural disaster, paying for the trip himself. The resulting images offer a glimpse into the lives of people in a community that is working hard to survive.

“I took a chance myself to do this—to learn to work in a disaster zone,” he said. “It was a big learning experience. A lot of my instructors at the Academy did see the jump in the work that I did.”

Photo by Unni Raveendranathan
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Currently, Unni is working on another personal project entitled Cash & Blood. The project focuses on four townspeople in Southern India, a predominantly Hindu area, who began working as part-time butchers in the weekends.

Unni originally started at Academy of Art University to earn his degree in Animation. After taking an elective photography course with instructor Emilio Banuelos, he was inspired to pursue a BFA in Photography.

“Photography was a passion, but I didn’t think about it as a career until this class,” he said. “In fact, the entire Academy of Art University School of Photography has been extremely supportive of growth in my career. Without the push of everyone, winning this award would not have happened.”


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