The W. Eugene Memorial Fund is breaking from its 40-year tradition of presenting its $40,000 annual grant to a single photographer by announcing it has selected five recipients of this year’s grant. Each recipient will receive $10,000 for their entries which, in the eyes of the judges, follow the tradition of the compassionate photojournalism exhibited by W. Eugene Smith during his 45-year career. The Smith Fund also announced Ksenia Kuleshova (Russia), a graduate student at Dortmund University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Germany, is the recipient of the $5,000 Smith Student grant, and Stephen Ferry (Bogota, Colombia) representing OjoRojo Fabrica Visual (Red Eye Visual Factory), is the recipient of the $10,000 Howard Chapnick grant.
Recognizing the widespread financial need caused by the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic, especially for the arts, including documentary photography, the Smith Fund’s Board of Trustees determined the grant would have greater significance if shared among several photographers. Today’s announcement of grant recipients coincides with the 42nd anniversary of Smith’s death on Oct. 15, 1978. Since the Fund’s inception in 1979, it has awarded over $1 million to photographers whose past work and proposed projects follow the tradition of W. Eugene Smith’s career as a photographic essayist.
2020 Smith Grant Recipients
Andres Cardona: “Wreck Family and the Colombian Conflict” (Colombia)
This project focuses on how the violence in Colombia affected Andres’ family, including the murder of his mother, father, and uncle by the National Army and Colombian government military without cause. “I did not know peace, there was always war in my childhood and the peace process signed between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia “FARC” and the National Government allowed tranquility to be felt in the territory where I live for a couple of years. Today, the panorama has changed, and it seems that peace is only a utopia for those of us who live through war,” Andres wrote.
Sabiha Çimen: “Hafiz: The Guardians of the Quran” (Turkey)
This project is an ongoing series of medium format portraits shot in conservative Quran boarding schools for young girls in five cities in Turkey. It shows the daily lives of the girls and their hidden emotions as they try to memorize the sacred texts while still retaining the humble dreams of any young woman their age.
“l attended Quran school with my twin sister when I was twelve years old, and with that experience l am now able to reveal a world unknown till now,” Sabiha wrote in her submission to the Smith Grant. “This story is a rarely seen glimpse into this world, normally hidden and forbidden to most others. My project is about these young women, about me and my twin, the memory of the Quran, and an investigation and portrayal of the hidden power within them acting out with small forms of resistance to find their individuality.”
Laura El-Tantawy: “I’ll Die for You” (Egypt)
Laura began this project eight years ago as a meditation on the relationship between man and land. Choosing small farmers as her focus, she contemplates farming as a diminishing way of life — a consequence of persistent climatic variations, its harsh physical and economic demands, singular nature, and a disposition towards urban living. “My paternal grandfather — Hussein, is my inspiration for this series,” she wrote. “A farmer in Egypt’s Nile Delta, his devotion to his land eventually annihilated him. The series is driven by a desire to attach a human face to an environmental and social reality some insist to rebuff as abstract. It is an ode to my own grandfather and the many farmers I have been fortunate to meet & those who in death found a retreat.”
“I am delighted and proud to be the recipient of this year’s W. Eugene Smith grant,” said Laura. “Given the award is deeply rooted in Eugene Smith’s humanistic and compassionate values, I am honored my series, I’ll Die For You has been selected from such a large pool of entrants. As an independent photographer invested in exploring the social and environmental issues defining what makes us human in a moment of extraordinary vulnerability and uncertainty, it is through this award that I will be able to continue this work with a sense of full authorship and freedom,” she added.
Mariceu Erthal Garcia: “Letters to Gemma” (Mexico)
This project explores the absence of a missing woman, Gemma Mávil, who left home in 2011 for a job interview and never returned. Mariceu immerses herself in Gemma’s world through documenting the places she once inhabited, the poetry she wrote, the flowers she cultivated and the sad memory of her desire to live. Through this series, Mariceu uses the self-portrait as an interpretation of Gemma’s intimate world, suspended in time, since her life was suspended at the moment she disappeared. According to the federal database in Mexico, one person disappears every two hours.
“Receiving the W. Eugene Smith Grant is a great privilege for me,” Ms. Garcia said after learning that she had received this year’s Smith Grant honor. “I admire all the people who have been in this program, and it opens possibilities for me to continue my path by telling stories. This kind of recognition motivates me to keep looking for these stories with the hope that what I document has meaning and can influence and motivate people to keep fighting against injustice.”
Yuki Iwanami: “Blue Persimmons” (Japan)
This project looks at the aftermath of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima through the lens of a photographer who moved to Fukushima after the disaster. Through his photographs of contaminated land and living people, Mr. Iwanami captures the human side of this disaster, how it impacted the people, and how the nuclear power issues relate to other societal issues. In a recent interview, Mr. Iwanami explained that he wants to create a work that goes below the surface and looks at the roots that are common to many social issues.
“I am very honored and grateful for the recognition of my work by the W. Eugene Smith Fund,” said Mr. Iwanami. “Because of Smith’s love for Japan and its people, and for living in Minamata and bringing Minamata to the forefront, I feel a close connection with Smith,” he concluded.
The following photographers were also recognized as finalists for this year’s W. Eugene Smith Grant:
Nanna Heitmann: “Russia’s Pandemic of Inequality” (Germany)
Melissa Ianniello: “Wish it Was a Coming Out” (Italy)
Billy H.C. Kwok: “Last Letters: A Photographic Investigation of Taiwan White Terror” (Hong Kong)
Liu: “DPRK: Undercurrent” (China)
The Jurors made special mention of the work of Andrea Orejarena (Colombia) and Caleb Stein (UK) and their project, Long Time No See. Though collaborations are not eligible for a Smith Fund Grant under current guidelines, this project was noted by the judges for its sensitivity and compelling storytelling. Long Time No See brings together a constellation of photographs, paintings, and video to explore the memory and legacy of the Vietnam-America War. The project is a two-year collaboration between artist duo Andrea Orejarena (Colombia) and Caleb Stein (UK), and Vietnamese veterans and younger generations affected by chemical weapons used by the U.S. during the war.
Photographs and project descriptions of each grant recipient’s entry can be viewed at SmithFund.org.
Eugene Smith Student Grant
Ksenia Kuleshova (Russia), a graduate student at Dortmund University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Dortmund, Germany, received the $5,000 Eugene Smith Student grant for “Ordinary People,” which documents the everyday life of LGBTQ+ couples in Russia and their ability to enjoy everyday life despite open homophobia on the television, by politicians in the media, and the Russian church.
“Each year since its inception the Student Grant has gained in the strength and quality of images submitted by students around the world, and this year was no exception,” said Scott Thode, lead juror for the Student grant, Smith Fund board member, and Residency Program Instructor, Exhibition Curator, and Partnership Development Director at NYC Salt. “Along with fellow jurors, Jessica Dimson and Pablo Corral Vega, we found it difficult to come to a final decision but Ksenia Kuleshova’s work on LGBTQ communities in Russia stood out above all the others for it’s clear vision, empathy for the subjects, and passion.”
“I’m very happy and honored to receive this grant that will help me to continue my project, explained Ksenia Kuleshova. “While homophobic propaganda grows in Russia, I want my photography to advocate tolerance and understanding, to show the deeper insight into the everyday life of the Russian LGBTQ+ community. I truly believe that we need to be able to find something positive even in the worst situations,” she concluded.
Joining Scott Thode on the adjudication panel were Jessica Dimson, Deputy Director of Photography for The New York Times Magazine, and Pablo Corral Vega, an Ecuadorian photojournalist and lawyer whose work has been published in The New York Times Magazine, Smithsonian magazine and National Geographic.
Howard Chapnick Grant
This year’s $10,000 Howard Chapnick Grant was presented to Stephen Ferry, curator (Bogota, Colombia) at OjoRojo Fabrica Visual (Red Eye Visual Factory), a non-profit cultural foundation run by a group of Colombian and international documentary photographers in central Bogota. In four short year, OjoRojo has become an important reference point in the world of Colombian and Latin American photography and journalism. Through workshops, exhibitions, and numerous public presentations by photographers, they promote diversity and gender equality in the profession, while emphasizing the development of critical and informed perspectives on the challenges facing Colombian and Latin American society.
“On behalf of the OjoRojo Fábrica Visual photography space in Bogotá, Colombia, we are delighted to receive the Howard Chapnick Grant,” explained Stephen Ferry, Co-founder of OjoRojo. “This support helps us weather the pandemic and to keep growing documentary photography practice in Colombia in the context of a complicated peace process and continuing human rights violations. We are also happy to learn that Colombian photographer Andrés Cardona has won a W. Eugene Smith Grant for his important work on the armed conflict,” Mr. Ferry added.
Leandro Villaro, a Smith Fund board member, and lead juror for the grant, was impressed with the passion and dedication represented by this year’s entries. “The scope and intensity that many of these projects are undertaking is both impressive and inspiring,” said Mr. Villaro who is also the Director of Programs at the Penumbra Foundation in New York City. “It was an honor to review this year’s submissions with Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa and Jehan Jillani, two highly respected professionals in the fields of art, photography, and journalism.
“It has been both a pleasure and a privilege to be empowered by the W. Eugene Smith Foundation to support people working with photography to effect substantive change in their various communities, or in their individual work, in a moment such as the one we’re living through,” explained Stanley Wolukau Wanambwa, a British photographer, writer, and former editor of The Great Leap Sideways website. “The wide array of submissions that we evaluated were united in their common recognition of photography’s inherent sociality. They shared a common faith in photography’s capacity to serve as a point of encounter, a pretext for discussion, an object of debate, a prompt for rumination or reverie, or as a means of resistance and refusal, he added.
The W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography is presented annually to a photographer whose past work and proposed project, as judged by a panel of experts, follows the tradition of W. Eugene Smith’s dedicated compassion and humanistic approach to his subjects throughout his career as a photographic essayist. Judges look for photographers (and their proposed projects) that seem most likely to use exemplary and compelling photojournalism (and possibly incorporating multi-media) to address issues related to the human condition; social change; humanitarian concern; armed conflict; or cultural, social, environmental, and/or political significance, ideally expressing an underlying acknowledgment of our common humanity. Past recipients have included Yael Martinez (2019), Daniel Castro Garcia (2017), Darcy Padilla (2010), James Nachtwey (1993), Eli Reed (1992), Sebastião Salgado (1982), and Jane Evelyn Atwood (1980).
The W. Eugene Smith Fund Memorial Fund, Inc. is a non-profit corporation qualified as tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. The W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund is supported by generous contributions from the The Phillip and Edith Leonian Foundation, Meero Foundation, Carla Shen, Chris Schott, and Dora Somosi. Additional support is provided by Aperture, Brilliant Graphics, Center for Creative Photography (CCP), the International Center of Photography, MediaStorm, Pro Photo Daily School of Visual Arts MFA Photography, Video and Related Media Department, School of Visual Arts MPS Digital Photography, and Synergy Communications.
Judge’s Special Recognition (Smith Grant)
Smith Student Grant
Howard Chapnick Grant