Dutch photographer wins international award, but can’t accept due to visa bureaucracy

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The winner of a prestigious international photography award who lives in St. John’s was unable to accept the award in person Friday in Spain due to visa paperwork.

Ting Ting Chen is a student at Memorial University. In her spare time, she discovered a passion for fine art photography, inspired mainly by her adopted province.

“I would say that I not only found my home in Newfoundland, but also my muse,” Chen said.

This year, Chen’s photo—The Duke—was selected as the overall winner in the non-professional (single image) category of the Julia Margaret Cameron Awards. The international competition entitles the winner to potential gallery representation, magazine reporting and a fully-funded gala exhibition at Barcelona’s FotoNostrum gallery.

She is the only person in Canada to have won this year.

Chen said her solo exhibit will be comprised entirely of photos of Newfoundland and the people she met here, a showcase for her to celebrate her new home.

But instead of showing her province in Spain, she spent three months fighting to be allowed to return to Canada after the show.

Chen’s winning photograph, titled The Duke, is of his friend Robert Tilley. It was the overall winner in the non-professional (single image) category at the Julia Margaret Cameron Awards. (Submitted by Ting Ting Chen)

Chen is from China. She came to St. John’s in 2018 to do her doctorate in folklore and quickly fell in love with Newfoundland and Labrador.

« When I arrived in Newfoundland, I was very impressed with its beautiful landscape, » Chen said.

« So, I quickly dedicated myself to photographing its landscape as soon as I arrived here, and I bought a better camera. I updated my equipment and I have the ambition to be a better photographer. »

Along with her friend, Robert Tilley, who features in several of her photos, including this year’s winner, Chen traveled the island taking pictures of the places and people she saw, already winning several awards for her work. .

“If I hadn’t come to Newfoundland, I wouldn’t have become a photographer,” she says.

ting ting chen elliston
Chen’s photograph of the Elliston landscape won the grand prize in the 2020 Reflections of Nature competition organized by Canadian Wildlife Magazine. (Ting Ting Chen)

Chen is not a Canadian citizen and can only live in Newfoundland and Labrador on a study permit.

As soon as she learned that she had won the prize, she submitted her application for a temporary resident visa to return to Canada after the exhibition.

« According to the latest information on their website, the normal processing time is 15-39 days, » Chen said. « Now more than three months have passed. »

It’s not the first time she’s traveled since arriving in Canada, but it’s the first time she’s been this kind of late.

Chen appealed to the Department of Immigration and Minister Seamus O’Regan’s office and both were helpful and communicative, she said. But she still hasn’t heard anything definitive about her visa.

CBC News contacted the two, but had not heard back at the time of publication.

Cape Spear Lighthouse at sunrise, a small pond in the foreground with water splashing in the air.
Photo of Chen from Cape Spear Lighthouse. (Submitted by Ting Ting Chen)

This is not just a potential loss for Chen, but for the province itself, which she says would have been seen by the European art world in an entirely new light.

« Every photo in my solo show in Barcelona is about Newfoundland, » Chen said. « It’s about portraits of Newfoundland, it’s about landscapes of Newfoundland.

“I believe this is the first time a Newfoundland-themed photo art exhibition has taken place in Barcelona.…I was so excited about it.”

This week, she followed the events on social networks. Julio Hirsch-Hardy, CEO of the gallery, has offered to postpone his solo exhibition until November to see if the visa is obtained.

colonial building by ting ting chen
The Colonial Building at night in St. John’s photographed by Chen. (Submitted by Ting Ting Chen)

Even if this is the case, Chen must then start a second procedure to obtain a visa to enter Spain. She will have to fly to Montreal and go in person to the Spanish Consulate General to do so.

“I’m very grateful to have come here,” Chen said, “and that’s why I’m heartbroken that I can’t go to Barcelona. I couldn’t showcase the beauty of Newfoundland on the world stage because I absolutely love this place.

« I really appreciate this great opportunity…and now I’ve almost lost it, and maybe I’ll lose it again in November. So that’s what breaks my heart. »

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