Sarah Blesener
  Photo by Sarah Blesener from Toy Soldiers.

Sarah Blesener receives first place for documentary exploring patriotism and nationalism in Russia          

SDN is thrilled to present the winners of our recent Call for Entries, Documenting What Matters. The judges selected one first-place winner and four honorable mentions. The work submitted was outstanding and a clear demonstration of the commitment and interest in documentary photography and visual storytelling.   

The first place winner is Sarah Blesener from the US for her project Toy Soldiers, documenting rising nationalism among youth in Russia. Her work focuses on patriotic education, military-war camps, and alternative youth groups . Toy Soldiers will be featured in the upcoming issue of ZEKE magazine.

Honorable mentions are Fabien Dupoux, from France, for Workers, Valerie Leonard, also from France, for Black Hell, Younes Mohammad, from Iraq, for In the Name of Religion, and Woong-jae Shin, originally from South Korean and now based in the US, for From Sand to Ash. (See below for more details on these projects.)

We very much want to thank the jurors for their contribution to this Call for Entries:
  • Barbara Ayotte: Senior Director of Strategic Communications, Management Sciences for Health
  • Dimitri Beck: Director of Photography, Polka Magazine, Paris
  • Andy Patrick: CEO, VII Photo Agency
  • Nicole Werbeck, Senior Photo Editor, National Geographic
SDN would also like to thank all of the photographers who submitted to this call. Click here for more information on this Call for Entries and the prizes received by the winners. Click here to view all the submissions.   

First Place
Sarah Blesener
Toy Soldiers      
Very significant work and commitment to the Russian story. Very worthy photography to be supported and promoted.
                                  -Andy Patrick, CEO, VII Photo Agency

Sarah Blesener
From Toy Soldiers by Sara Blesener. Dmitri Antonets (17) rests after an intensive drill. 1 August 2016. The group from Stavropol is practicing for an upcoming "fake war" between groups at "Orthodox Warrior" camp. They are using air-soft guns for the practice and competitions.

Over 200,000 youth in Russia are currently enrolled in patriotic clubs, with 10,000 in Moscow alone. Each club functions independently with their own structures and philosophies. In 2015, a proposed program from the Russian government entitled the "Patriotic Education of Russian Citizens in 2016-2020" called for an eight percent increase in patriotic youth within the next ten years, and a ten percent increase in new recruits for the Russian armed forces.  
View exhibit and complete text >>

Sarah Blesener
Sarah Blesener is a documentary photographer based in New York City. Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, she studied Linguistics and Youth Development at North Central University. While in university, she worked as a photographer for the organization Healing Haiti based in Port au Prince, covering events surrounding the 2010 earthquake. Upon graduation in 2012, she studied at Bookvar Russian Academyin Minneapolis, concentrating on the Russian language. She is a recent graduate of the Visual Journalism and Documentary Practice program at the International Center of Photography in New York. Her latest work revolves around issues of nationalism and militarization of youth, focusing on Russia, Eastern Europe, and the United States. She is represented by Anastasia Gallery, New York. 

Honorable Mentions
Fabien Dupoux
by Fabien Dupoux/ Indonesia, France, Vietnam, India, Mexico, Bolivia
The world of work is everywhere -- hard, cruel, unjust, without mercy, brutal, inhuman, in opposition with nature and with ourselves. Away from this so-called modernity--the consumer society--this sterile environment that they are trying to sell us at any price, this cruel reality of a world unforgiving and uncompromising.
Valerie Leonard
by Valerie Leonard/ India
In the State of Jharkhand, in the northeast of India, the Damodar Valley has become a hell on earth. The open-cast coal mines there took over the forest. These mines have been active without interruption for over a century. The extraction of the "black diamond", destroyed the ...
Younes Mohammad
by Younes Mohammad/ Iraq & Syria
"Subtle images and good approach and work."
        Dimitri Beck, Director of Photography, Polka

Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham(ISIS) is a Salafi jihadist militant group that follows an Islamic fundamentalist, Wahhabi doctrine of Sunni Islam. Derived from its Arabic name--Dawlah al-Islāmiyah fī 'l-ʿIrāq wa-sh-Shām), the group is also known...
Woong-jae Shin
by Woong-jae Shin/ South Korea, Indonesia, Bolivia, Japan
"A story of our times."
        Dimitri Beck, Director of Photography,

The semiconductor. It's the backbone of the digital era. The CPUs in PCs, memory chips in cell phones and even display units in TVs, semiconductors invisibly sustain our daily lives from the inside of these devices. Yet we lack knowledge about the semiconductor in terms of a manufacturing process that ...

Submit Your Work to SDN
Find out how to have your work featured on the SDN website, included in ZEKE, Spotlight, and eligible for Featured Photographer of the Month. More» 

Subscribe to ZEKE: The Magazine of Global Documentary
Subscribe to ZEKE magazine and get the best of global documentary photography delivered to your door, and to your digital device, twice a year. Each issue presents outstanding photography from the Social Documentary Network. More » 

About Social Documentary Network
Social Documentary Network is a website for photographers, NGOs, journalists, editors, and students to create and explore documentary exhibits investigating critical issues facing the world today. Recent exhibits have explored oil workers in the Niger River Delta, male sex workers in India, Central American immigrant women during their journey north, and Iraqi and Afghan refugees in Greece. Click here to view all of the exhibits.