For the last four years, French cognac maker Martell has committed itself to supporting the arts through a photography-centric campaign – the Icon de Martell Cordon Bleu competition. Each year, a panel of judges examine the works of local artists that are submitted to them, and select one winner who receives a prize money of $30,000 as well as the opportunity to publish his work. In addition, the winner is invited to the distillery in Cognac as well as the Chanteloup house, home of Martell, where he captures the process of making fine cognac within the nearly three-century old maison.
Last year, Edwin Koo took home the prize for the award. The documentary photographer is represented by a number of image agencies in the world from Cosmos to Zuma Press, and in 2009 received the Getty Images Grant for Editorial Photography for his work in photojournalism. In that same year (2009), Koo also won the UNICEF Photo of the Year award while working in Pakistan, shooting in the Swat Valley.
The area, which has been under attack by the Taliban, has come under great attention last year when Malala Yousafzai, the youngest ever nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, was shot by Taliban gunmen in 2012 for her vocal support for the right of all children to education. Yousafzai, who fortunately survived the attack, helped to propel through the Pakistan government the Right of Education bill.
Koo has been visiting Swat Valley for over five years, capturing and documenting the lives of the people in the region. The area has suffered numerous natural disasters, including a flood in 2010 that devastated the villages and town. In his words, “Paradise had been lost; what Man couldn’t destroy, Nature had taken the rest of it.”
In his book, Paradise, Koo publishes a series of photographs on the people living in Swat Valley. “When I went to Pakistan in 2009 for the first time, I wanted to see if it was really as bad as what we heard in the news. When I met the people from Swat Valley, they told me that they had lost their homes, that Paradise had been lost. I promised myself that I would return to see Paradise for myself.
“Everyone of us at some point in our lives has asked this question: ‘What is paradise?’ The people of Swat Valley showed me a different paradise.”
The book, which is now on sale, also includes a separate volume that Koo has produced for Martell, documenting through his lenses the work that goes on in the distillery in Cognac and the people who work to create one of the most famous cognacs in the world.
Check out a selection of Koo’s work here, and feel free to pick up a volume through his website. For more information on Martell and the Icon de Martell Cordon Bleu prize as well, do visit their site.