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, 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 rapidly changing environment in which documentary artists conduct their work, we suspended the Lange-Taylor Prize competition in order to evaluate the best avenues for supporting documentary projects in the future.
This year, CDS is proud to re-launch the Lange-Taylor Prize, which supports documentary 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. However, please note, the guidelines no longer stipulate that a writer and a photographer, i.e., two people or more, collaborate on a project. Single artists and collaborative teams working with text/audio/photographs/video/graphic novel format may apply.
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 philosophy of the program is guided by a belief in the intersection of personal artistic work with interpretive knowledge and of the relevance of the individual documentary/experimental artist within the cultural history and life of communities. A key component to the program is the notion of creative engagement through the arts and the role of the artist in society.
The winner will be publicly announced in August 2013; the winner’s solo exhibition will be on view at CDS in fall 2014. The American Society of Media Photographers is sustaining sponsor of the Dorothea Lange–Paul Taylor Prize.
The Center for Documentary Studies will continue to make awards for documentary still photography and narrative nonfiction through the CDS Documentary Essay Prize.