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Youth Chess Project Wins 2nd In World Press Photo Awards

Youth Chess Project Wins 2nd In World Press Photo Awards

One of the award-winning projects of 2017 World Press Photo involved chess. Czech photographer Michael Hanke earned the prize for his pictures from several youth chess tournaments in his country.

Michael HankeHanke was born in 1972 in Kladno, Czech Republic. Starting at 40, his career as a photographer has lasted only five years but he has already won several prestigious awards, including five in the Czech Press Photo competition.

His reportage of Youth Chess Tournaments was shortlisted for the Sony World Photography Awards, the world's biggest photography competition.

His series has now won the 2nd prize in the sub category Stories of the 2017 World Press Photo's Sports section, the world's most prestigious photography contest.

The pictures, all black and white, were taken in different cities of the Czech Republic: Benesov, Bustehrad, Neratovice, Prague, Ricany, Slany, and Zdice.

Chess.com asked Hanke a few questions. Below, you'll find some of his pictures.

You say that you make 'humanistic black and white' photos. Why did you make these choices?

I was always interested in people and their stories which is why especially humanistic documentary photography attracts me the most. I like black and white as the color is not needed to express emotions, feelings and moods shown in my photos. The color is rather redundant for the kind of stories I am trying to tell.

What does the prize mean to you?

For me the World Press Photo award means especially the commitment to my future work. People will expect only the highest quality of my upcoming photographic projects, both on the content and visual level. This is fine as I always preferred quality over quantity and I carefully consider which photos I will publish. And of course, thanks to this success, my photographs will be seen by millions of people from all over the world as the exhibition will travel to 45 countries.

How did you decide on the topic of youth chess events?

My friend has a son who plays chess and he takes him to many chess tournaments during a year. I approached this photographic project as a challenge. Many people view chess as the most boring sport in the world. I tried to capture the exact opposite – the sport full of adrenaline, stress and emotions. In the second plan, I tried to show one of the last places where the children can have fun even without mobile phones or gaming consoles.

What were the easy and the difficult parts during this project?

The easiest part was that I did not have to travel far as the tournaments were held in short distance from my home town. This is common to all my projects as I am trying to document the environment that is familiar to me. On the other hand, the most difficult part was to stay focused as the best moments which I was able to capture are not quite common. I was pleasantly surprised that children behave almost like adults during tournaments, so to capture some emotions that is recognizable from the outside, I had to be very patient.

Are you a chess player? What do you find interesting about the game?

I play chess as my hobby. But it was quite useful for me to know the chess rules as I could distinguish unusual moments and also to some extent even predict behind which chessboard something important might happen in the following seconds and minutes. I like that the game of chess has an infinite number of variants and that there is a zero level of coincidence at the same time.

What inspired you to become a photographer and which photographer(s) influenced your style?

In our family almost its every member is a photographer. We have photography in the blood. To some extent my father influenced me, but otherwise I try to go my own way and to develop my own style and approach.

Have you seen photography works on chess of other people? What would you advise to those who want to take great photos at chess events?

As I said, I am trying to go my own way, so at first I did not search for the work of other photographers. Later I tried, but I have to admit that I have not found many of them. At least no one who would try to systematically approach chess tournaments in a documentary style of photography. To capture not just the game itself but also the moments behind the scenes. I would advise those photographers who want to take good photos at chess events to be patient and try to identify the players who tend to show emotions from time to time.

What do you think about post-editing of photos in general and particularly chess photos?

I am not a fan of extensive post-editing except the common standard minor adjustments such as brightness or contrast. Especially in a documentary photography the excessive post-processing has no reason in my opinion.

Which camera and lenses are you using and why did you make this choice?

So far, I only used one camera for all my existing photographic projects, namely the Fujifilm X100. This large sensor compact camera with a 23 mm fixed prime lens that perfectly suits my style of work.


Hanke won the World Press Photo award for a selection of photos taken in 2016. The picures below are a broader selection, taken in 2014-2016. Note that we've uploaded them in reasonably high resolution, so you might want to zoom your browser to e.g. 150% to see them bigger.

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You can find much more of Michael Hanke's photography on his website. His section on the World Press Photo website can be found here.

This article was created in cooperation with Maria Emelianova.

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