Monday, October 25, 2010

This Week in the Visual Culture: Two Prizes and a Prized Job

1. Darcy Padilla Wins Smith Grant
Julie Baird with her daughter, 1993. Baird died of AIDS in September leaving several children
The winner of the $30,000 W. Eugene Smith Grant for Humanistic Photography, Darcy Padilla, has already created a visual epic. Her intensely intimate story of the life and death of Julie Baird spans 17 years, starting with a chance encounter in a hotel lobby in 1993 and ending with Baird's death from AIDS on September 27 in  Alaska. The photographs have the emotional resonance you find in much of Eugene Richards's work, and I'm hard pressed to think of anything I've ever seen with its sustained focus. In the press release put out by the Smith Foundation, Padilla says that she initially imagined the story as "an updated, urban version" of Smith's famous 1948 "Country Doctor" photo essay. It became something more like photographic novel—a very sad, very detailed story of  singular personal defeats from drugs, disease, poverty, and the need for love, or at least nurture. Each of those defeats seems to send out concentric waves of tragedy that spill over the edges of the photographs themselves. 

2. Anonymous Photographer Wins TED Prize

This award sort of puts the Smith Grant in perspective. The TED Prize, an annual prize worth $100,000 that goes to people who have "one wish to change the world," has been awarded this year to an anonymous street artist who combines photography and graffiti—he calls himself a "photograffeur"—to create unique installations in unexpected places. Here is the TED citation:
JR creates pervasive art that spreads uninvited on building of Parisian slums, on walls in the Middle East, on broken bridges in Africa or in favelas in Brazil. People in the exhibit communities, those who often live with the bare minimum, discover something absolutely unnecessary but utterly wonderful. And they don't just see it, they make it. Elderly women become models for a day; kids turn into artists for a week. In this art scene, there is no stage to separate the actors from the spectators.
Above and below are some of JR's pieces. He says his idea is to provoke change by fostering community. What do you think? Can art in general, and this art in particular, do that?

3. Chris Boot Becomes Aperture's Executive Director

This news isn't about a prize, but it is about a prized job. Photo District News reports that the esteemed publisher and former Magnum agency head Chris Boot will become the new executive director of the esteemed Aperture Foundation, the non-profit founded back in the day by Ansel Adams, Minor White, and other.  The foundation has gone through several chiefs since the death of its longtime director, Michael Hoffman, in 2001. Boot replaces Juan Garcia de Oteyza, who has had the job since 2008. Boot has spent the past decade or so publishing a wide range of astonishingly good books under his own imprint, Chris Boot, LTD, featuring such photographers as Luc Delahaye, James Mollison, and, most recently, Tim Hetherington. It will be interesting to see what his impact will be on Aperture's book division, one of the liveliest in the photo world.

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