Artist Who ‘Reclaims Black Experience’ Wins Deutsche Börse Photography Prize | Deutsche Börse Photography Prize

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An artist whose staged portraits reflect the language of the family photo album has won one of photography’s most prestigious awards, with judges saying her work “reframes and reclaims the black experience”.

Deana Lawson from Rochester, New York, received the 2022 Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize of £30,000 at the Photographers’ Gallery in London for her solo exhibition Centropy, held at Kunsthalle Basel two years ago .

Brett Rogers, Director of the Photographers’ Gallery and President of the Deutsche Börse Jury, praised Lawson’s inventiveness and the complexity of his approach to creating images.

“His work, which reframes and reclaims the black experience, harnesses the traditional and the experimental and opens up a very unique connection between the everyday and the mystical,” she said.

“His subject matter is somewhere between ‘here and now’ and the past, a person and a people, staging and naturalism, in a way that is neither didactic nor thematic, but genuinely radical. The boldness of her vision and the heightened sensibility she brings to her protagonists is clearly the result of a carefully nuanced collaboration with her cast of “family” members, which places her in a rare position as a partner or narrator rather than author.

An ode to Yemaya, 2019. Photography: Deana Lawson

Lawson is renowned for her intimate staged portraits that explore intergenerational relationships and their effects within black culture. They reflect the tropes of documentary photography and art history as well as the language of the family photo album.

She frequently positions women as central protagonists, alongside the presence of elders, totemic male figures, and archetypal symbolic figures, such as the celestial child. The images depict familiar domestic settings but contain a disturbing element – what the artist calls portals to other worlds, or representations of death or birth.

Visitors learn about what Lawson calls his “ever-expanding mythological family.”

Anne-Marie Beckmann, director of the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation, said that while Lawson was steeped in the traditions of photography and in many ways quite classical, her images opened up new possibilities for the medium and its reception.

“Interrogating the position of the black body in visual culture and playing with tropes such as the family portrait, artifice and nature, she takes the personal and makes it political, forcing an often unsettling contemplation of how and what we see.”

The presentation at the Photographers’ Gallery marks Lawson’s first institutional exhibition in the UK. The jury also recognized the work of the other shortlisted artists – Anastasia Samoylova, Gilles Peress and Jo Ractliffe.

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