Carolyn Drake wins Lange-Taylor prize

This is rather old news, not least because my server ate it when I posted it a day or two ago. I’ve been meaning for some time to write again about the work of Carolyn Drake, who, together with writer Ilan Greenberg is the winner of the 2008 (and eighteenth) Dorothea Lange–Paul Taylor Prize, one of the major awards for documentary photography.

The $20,000 prize from The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, USA, is given to encourage collaboration between photographers and writers in documentary work. Dorothea Lange is best known for her picture Migrant Mother and other images taken for the Resettlement Administration (FSA).

Library of Congress
from: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington

Lange’s second husband was an agricultural economist and writer Paul Taylor, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley (they married in 1935) and together they made many field trips documenting rural America, and in particular poor sharecroppers and migrant workers. Lange got a Guggenheim in 1941, the same year that they published the seminal ‘American Exodus:A Record of Human Erosion‘ Later, in 1952, she was one of the founders of Aperture Magazine.

Carolyn Drake

lan Greenberg and Carolyn Drake’s project, ‘Becoming Chinese: Uighurs in Cultural Transition,’ looks at a rural Muslim community in a Chinese region, whose culture and language has been and is under severe pressure from the Chinese government.

Drake’s colour images (there are six on the Duke site and others in the links below) have an incredible freshness of vision, with sometimes a quite striking framing or angle of view. Sometimes it can be a challenge to decide exactly what we are seeing – as in a view ‘Oasis town, Turkmenistan‘ on the set of images on F-Stop #27 (Feb March 2008).

On Blueeyes you can see images from the Ukraine in Borderland, many of which too have a certain mystery as a face glooms out of the darkness at the edge of an image or a man is suspended in the branches of trees. Drake likes dramatic foregrounds, but there are also images that are largely about superb colour. She is also given to some powerful and dynamic composition, often getting away from a slavish adherence to the horizontal and using the cuttng edge of the frame to great effect.

Her other Blueeyes essay on the Lubavitch in Brooklyn is perhaps more carefully controlled but has some stunning images (they got her noticed by PDN for their Top 30 emerging photographers to watch in 2006)

You can also see a great deal of work on Carolyn Drakes own web site – perhaps the most intriguing for me was a set on a subject I’ve tried to look at myself, suburbia. I’m not sure where her ‘New Suburbia‘ series was shot, but I think it’s a place I’d avoid living.

Drake, who is based in Istanbul, is a member of Panos Pictures and you can see a perhaps wider range of her work on that site by clicking on her name on the photographers page.

One of the first articles I wrote when I worked for ‘About Photography‘ was about photographic competitions – and its major point was the obvious one that you won’t win if you don’t enter. I’m sure there were many more excellent entries for the Lange-Taylor prize, and it takes a lot of time to put together entries for this and other competitions. This wasn’t Drake’s first year of entry for the prize. It’s always a disappointment if you enter and don’t win the best thing to do is to pick yourself up and try to do better another time. Entries for the 2009 award are due in Jan 2009 and all the details are on the web site.

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