Student nominated for Sony World Photography competition

Two women stand with their hands in prayer

Article by: Gaynor Orvis

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Mary Ashokeji- headshot black and white

Third year BA (Hons) Digital Photography student Mary Ashokeji was recently nominated for the Sony World Photography Awards student competition. For this year’s competition, students were challenged to submit five to ten images which explored the theme ‘In a Changing World’.  

As part of the brief, they were asked to show positive stories of development and progress, drawing on inspiration from topics such as environment, technology, and the way we work and live.  

In Mary’s work, she draws from her own experiences of worship and captured a series of emotive images featuring people from her own church.  

Mary is one of nine nominees and the overall winner will be announced on 15 April 2023. 

We chatted to Mary about how she tackled the brief, what the nomination means to her and life at Ravensbourne. 


Could you tell me a bit about the opportunity and how you found out about it? 

I actually only joined the BA (Hons) Digital Photography course last year, as before this I was enrolled on the BA (Hons) Advertising and Brand Design course.  

Every year, students on the digital photography course can submit work for the competition, and so my tutors encouraged me to take part.  

Two women stand with their hands in prayer

What prompted your decision to change courses? 

I’m in my third year now on the digital photography course, but when I was in my second year on the advertising and brand design course, I had a bit of an epiphany.  

To give a bit of background, it was during the end of the pandemic, and I was living away from home in London. I had also just been diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).  

I initially chose the advertising and brand design course because I thought I wanted to move into art direction, but I have been studying and taking photographs since I was in college.  

I realised that photography has always been my greatest passion, and so this is what I wanted to refocus on. The course leaders helped me work through my decision and allowed me to switch courses. 

Black and white photograph shows women with her eyes closed at church service

How did you tackle the brief for the competition? 

It took me a little while to develop my idea for the brief. I thought the work should share a common theme with the other body of work I have, and I knew I wanted it to be personal to me. 

As a Christian, church and worship plays an important role in my life. In the past I’ve helped with putting together some social media content for my church, so this is what gave me the initial idea. 

I decided to focus on worship and people’s individual expressions of worship. A week before, my friend had asked me to shoot one of the services, so it was great timing. I had a few test shots, which came out really well, so that’s how the idea was born. 

I spoke to my course leaders, and they agreed that it was a great theme. We then discussed the specifics together, like the sort of camera I should use and the types of angles I wanted to get. 

The piece itself is called ‘Expressions of Worship’. There are many ways that you can express yourself in worship, but I wanted to hone in on the physical expression and to try to reveal its intimacy.  

Black and white photograph shows women standing and singing in prayer

What has this opportunity meant to you personally?  

 I had no expectations about being shortlisted and honestly it came as a massive surprise. 

I think it was quite bold to create a series around religion, and it was great to see how diverse the different entries are. It’s such a personal topic for me, and so it was amazing to get recognition for a theme that is so close to my heart. 

It has really opened my eyes to what I might like to pursue in the future and the area that I want to specialise in. This opportunity has made me even more sure that I want to focus on documentary and photojournalism. 

I think my work is a continuous journey of understanding my own style and drawing from experiences in my own life as inspiration. 

Women kneels on floor with hands outstretched in prayer

Could you tell me a little bit about your own creative process? 

I think I’ve developed my own personal style over time. 

I recently noticed, when I was writing my personal statement for my Masters, that I felt a lot more confident putting my ideas across – I think my confidence is growing all the time. 

I also think that my ADHD allows me to see things that other people don’t see. I’m constantly finding inspiration for my photography wherever I look. 

As an example, whereas someone else might use a spice cupboard to organise things in the kitchen, I might use something else that works better for me. 

It’s the same with my art, something might catch my eye that maybe other people wouldn’t see or wouldn’t take much notice of. I think it allows me to naturally have a good eye for negative space; I can move the tripod around and find angles that wouldn’t necessarily jump out to other people. 

Black and white image of a person with their hands in the air in worship

How do you feel your course has helped prepare you for opportunities like this?  

I’m really grateful to the tutors on my course, as without them I wouldn’t have pushed myself to apply for opportunities like this.  

I think Ravensbourne provides such a great environment to learn through trial and error and take inspiration from everyone around you. 

Black and white photograph shows woman raising her head with eyes closed in prayer