The year 2010 marked the twentieth anniversary of the Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor documentary prize. First announced a year after the Center for Documentary Studies’ founding at Duke University, the prize was created 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.
As Tom Rankin, former director of CDS, writes of the origins of the prize, “In its breadth and range, documentary work is as important for its clarity of purpose as for its eloquence in communicating truths of human experience. . . . Dorothea Lange articulates this power, the promise of documentary expression, in a 1940 essay: ‘Documentary photography,’ she writes, ‘records the social scene of our time. It mirrors the present and documents for the future.’ The values inherent in the work and spirit of Dorothea Lange, with her husband and creative partner Paul Taylor, the innovative result of the ‘contemplation of things as they are,’ have been guiding principles for the documentary projects of all the Lange-Taylor prizewinners.
“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, we decided to reframe the prize guidelines. The relaunched 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 updated guidelines expand on the idea of “writing” by allowing words to be represented by audio or in graphic novel format. As in the past, edited oral histories, creative narratives, and poetry (that is both personal and social) are also encouraged.
The new guidelines require that artists have already started their fieldwork and have collected representative samples of the project's component parts. However, please note, the guidelines no longer stipulate that a writer and a photographer collaborate on a project. Single artists or collaborative teams working with text/audio/photographs/video/graphic novel format may apply.
The winner of the 2015 Lange-Taylor Prize will be publicly announced in September 2015; the winner’s solo exhibition will be on view at CDS in fall 2016.
The Center for Documentary Studies continues to make awards for documentary still photography and narrative nonfiction through the CDS Documentary Essay Prize.