2006 Lange-Taylor Prize: Larry Frolick and Donald Weber, "The Human Is an Atom That Won't Be Split: Resisting History in Ukraine"

Wednesday, November 1, 2006 - 2:30pm

Larry Frolick

Donald Weber

The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University has awarded the sixteenth Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize to photographer Donald Weber and writer Larry Frolick, both Canadians. The $20,000 award is given annually to encourage collaboration in documentary work in the tradition of acclaimed American photographer Dorothea Lange and writer and social scientist Paul Taylor. Lange and Taylor worked together for many years, most notably on fieldwork that resulted in American Exodus (1941), a seminal work in documentary studies.

Weber and Frolick's project, "The Human Is an Atom That Won't Be Split: Resisting History in Ukraine," will document how "Ukraine's underclass reveals the secret life of Western globalization." They write, "As our work in Kiev, Chernobyl, and the industrial city of Dnepro-Dzerzhinsk shows, we've found a European people desperate to survive, isolated at the margins of the West's consumer-driven economy. . . . With its 2004 Orange Revolution, Ukraine threw out the old Russian-backed political regime, electing a democratic leadership, its first since 1918. Hopes for this new regime were high but foundered as the Revolution failed to meet the needs of a civic society. Prostitution, drug use, and street gangs exploded under these pressures. . . . By spring 2005, organized gangs were stripping the hardware from public-sector buildings, selling it as scrap to China, leaving occupants without elevators, water boilers, manhole covers. Prostitution was so widespread and meth-cooking rings so prevalent the two professions could be a paradigm for the new society. What comes next? This is the question we intend to discover in our work."

Frolick and Weber have traveled to Ukraine four times since 2003 and will continue their trips there over the next few years. Their collaboration will result in a long-form essay ("a kind of narrative score to the photos," says Frolick) and large digital color photographs that will explore this "transgressive, shadow-side of Western economy . . . a place where old communal rules are out, and everything has its price."

Frolick writes, "What Don is getting out of Ukraine recently is something much deeper than what he started with; it's forced me to go back and reconsider my emotional (for want of a better word) rapport with the emerging story: Where the hell is he taking us now? It was raw instinct that made us interested in working in Ukraine in the first place; and it's this same instinct which keeps us going back. . . . The deep, unassailable core of the human spirit is what we are looking at now; it's what Ukraine has forced us to consider. So the emphasis is not so much about the novel or technical/social effects of globalization, but the inner resistance to all forms of human reduction. We're looking for resistance, sacrifice, survival—for signs of life that refuses to die, despite the odds."

Frolick and Weber have known each other since 2001; they first traveled together to eastern Turkey for a story on the Kurds in March 2003, just as the Iraq War began. Since then they have traveled and worked extensively together. Frolick describes their collaborations this way, "On one hand, we engage in an ongoing and almost daily dialogue about our work: the relationship of image to text, from the ineffable to strict narrative meaning. I'll email Don new text pieces to look at, or we'll reexamine older work in the light of new discoveries. This dialogue shows no signs of letting up."

An award-winning photographer, Donald Weber has worked as an architect for Rem Koolhass's Office in Metropolitan Architecture in the Netherlands and won a Governor General's Gold Medal in Architecture with Kongats Architects in Toronto. He is Photographer-at-Large for Outpost magazine and is a regular contributor to the Globe & Mail and Getty Images. Weber's work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Newsweek, Time, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, Maclean's, the Guardian and the Guardian Weekly, the Times of London, the Sunday Telegraph, La Presse, Le Monde 2, and Stern. He is listed in the Magenta Foundation's Carte Blanche, a compendium of Canada's best photographers, and in March 2006 he won a World Press Honorable Mention for one of his photographs from Ukraine.

Larry Frolick recently won the 2006 Alexander Ross Award from the National Magazine Awards of Canada for Best New Writer for his articles "The Wired Cabin" in Outpost and "Danger Signs" in The Walrus. He and Donald Weber were also nominated for a National Magazine Award for "Kebabistan: The Woman with Seven Heads," which appeared in Descant. Frolick is the author of Ten Thousand Scorpions: The Search for the Queen of Sheba's Gold; Grand Centaur Station: Unruly Living with the New Nomads of Central Asia; and Splitting Up: Divorce, Culture, and the Search for a Real Life. He is currently completing a graphic book with the cartoonist Jason Loo, Shooting Zombies till Dawn: Tales of the Suburbs. Frolick and Weber have just completed their first book-length collaborative work, When the Snake Whispers Your Name: Three Trips over the Edge. The book, divided into three parts, features "a full account of our adventures in Kebabistan during the opening days of the Iraq War, a river trip into the jungles of southern Guyana to meet the Giant Otter Lady, and a road trip across Canada's prairies and up into the Arctic on the high-risk Dempster Highway; with photos of crocodile hunting at night, small town rodeos, Turkish street fights, etc." Frolick and Weber are also the "determined anti-heroes" of the full-page comic Welcome to My Country, which Frolick writes and storyboards (and Steve Wilson draws).