An artist whose work examines our contemporary preoccupation with technology has received one of photography’s most prestigious awards, with judges praising her work as a great match for a society dealing with the Covid-19 epidemic.

At the Photographer’s Gallery in London, Cao Fei, a Chinese artist, was given the £30,000 Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation prize 2021. Her piece, which was created before the epidemic, was described by the judges as “gripping and prescient.”

Cao’s apocalyptic ideas pleased the judging panel, according to Brett Rogers, director of the Photographer’s Gallery and head of the Deutsche Börse jury, with a balanced approach to forecasting the near-future that was never dogmatic.

“The work touched the jury because we’ve all lived through these strange times, and while all of the bodies of work are very strong and speak to different issues, in a way this speaks most strongly for our time,” she added.

Asia One, the artist’s film set in a factory with automated machinery, has been characterized as a “sci-fi romcom that speaks to China’s past and the global future.” The jury was won over by the jury’s foresight into the confluence of technology, human emotion, and governmental authority.

“There are a lot of empty streets in Nova, and it’s about humanity’s connections to digital technology and how you get lost in it,” Rogers said. “It’s about the need for human connection,” says the narrator.

Fei’s art provides “a uniquely poetic dystopia” that reflects the human situation today, according to Anne-Marie Beckmann, head of the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation. “Through a distinctive and seductive visual language that speaks both through and about images and their place in the world today, she captures the particular isolation and alienation experienced in our increasingly digital age,” she said.

Three other nominees, Alejandro Cartagena, Zineb Sedira, and Poulomi Basu, who focused on the battle between the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) and the Indian state, were also nominated for the award, which is in its 25th year and recognizes projects that made “significant contributions to photography over the previous 12 months.”

Cartagena’s A Small Guide to Homeownership was based on 15 years of photographs chronicling Mexicans’ desire to buy a home, while Sedira’s Way of Life, from the series For a Brief Moment the World Was on Fire… and We Have Come Back, focused on counterculture movements of the 1960s and 1970s.

Thanks to Lanre Bakare at The Guardian whose reporting provided the original basis for this story.