The CDS Documentary Essay Prize honors the best in documentary photography and writing in alternating years: one year, photos; one year, writing. The focus is on current or recently completed work (within the last two years) from a long-term project—fifteen images; fifteen to twenty pages of writing.


The upcoming prize competition will be for photography. The winner of the competition will receive $3,000 and will have his or her work featured in Document, a periodical published by the Center for Documentary Studies, as well as on the Center’s website. The winner’s work will also be placed in the Archive of Documentary Arts at the Rubenstein Library, Duke University.

The inaugural 2013 prize, for writing, was awarded to Irish writer Rachel Andrews for “A New Wilderness at the Maze,” her essay on the meaning of the demolition of Ireland’s infamous Maze prison.

The 2014 prize, for photography, was given to Iveta Vaivode for “Somewhere on a Disappearing Path,” in which she explores the rural landscape and, perhaps, the last inhabitants, of Pilcene, Latvia, to create a new family album, one full of images of memories she’s imagined.

Submissions for the CDS Documentary Essay Prize in Photography will be accepted from November 2, 2015, to February 16, 2016.  Deadline extended to February 23.

See How to Enter and FAQ’s
The winner will be publicly announced in June 2016.
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Abbie Gasho Landis is the 2015 winner of the CDS Documentary Essay Prize in Writing.

Jessica Wilbanks was awarded honorable mention by the members of the Center for Documentary Studies Documentary Essay Prize selection committee for her beautifully crafted essay, “The Far Side of the Fire,” which explores widespread charges of witchcraft against Nigerian children and reflects on her own experiences growing up in the Pentecostal faith.

There were other 4 finalists for the 2014 CDS Documentary Essay Prize in Writing, selected from 42 entries:

Gaiutra Bahadur, “Into Dark Waters”
Benjamin Busch, “Unconscionable Maps”
Howard L. Craft, “Bull City Summer: Blue Monsters, Mattresses, and Durmites"
Tessa Fontaine, “A Mouth Full of Fire: Inside the Last American Sideshow”

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