First announced in 1990, the Dorothea Lange–Paul Taylor Prize was created by the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University to encourage collaboration between documentary writers and photographers in the tradition of the acclaimed photographer Dorothea Lange and writer and social scientist Paul Taylor. In 1941 Lange and Taylor published An American Exodus, a book that renders human experience eloquently in text and images and remains a seminal work in documentary studies.
Like Lange and Taylor, and all serious documentarians, the competitive applicants to this prize have a point of view derived from an in-depth understanding of place, history, and the current situation, in concert with a personal relationship to the proposed work. Ultimately, their commitment is to use documentary expression to motivate the thinking and reflection of others.
In 2011, in recognition of the changing environment in which documentary artists conduct their work, the Center for Documentary Studies decided to reframe the prize guidelines. The re-launched Lange-Taylor Prize supports artists, working alone or in teams, who are involved in extended, ongoing fieldwork projects that rely on and exploit, in intriguing and effective ways, the interplay of words and images in the creation and presentation of their work. The idea of “writing” has been expanded to allow words to be represented by audio and video or used in graphic novel format. As in the past, edited oral histories, creative narratives, and poetry (that is both personal and social) are also encouraged.
These changes to the award are inspired in part by the Center for Documentary Studies’ commitment to the new Master of Fine Arts in Experimental and Documentary Arts at Duke University, which brings together two forms of artistic activity—the documentary approach and experimental production in analog, digital, and computational media.
The winner receives $10,000, features in Center for Documentary Studies’ print and digital publications, and inclusion in the Archive of Documentary Arts at Rubenstein Library, Duke University.
Honorable Mention: Alice Leora Briggs and Julián Cardona for “Abecedario de Juárez,” which combines a glossary, interview-based narratives, and drawings to create, as they write, “an unhinged graphic dictionary of the language of violence” in Juárez, Mexico.
Special Recognition: Serge J-F. Levy for “The Fire in the Freezer,” a personal documentary about moving from New York City to Tucson, Arizona, in photographs and “strophes and vignettes” as a way, he says, to “digest this transition in my life.”
The other finalists for the 2015 Lange-Taylor Prize were JT Blatty; Kitra Cahana; Sarah Christianson and Sierra Crane-Murdoch; Megan Doherty; Jess Dugan and Vanessa Fabbre, Justin Maxon; Brittany Powell; Rylan Steele and Nora Wendl; Byron Wolfe, Mark Klett, and Rebecca Solnit.