Young woman's face in profile against a hazy backgruond.
Film still from “A Thousand Girls Like Me” directed by Sahra Mani, 2019 winner of the CDS Filmmaker Award

For Documentarians

Over the last quarter century, the Center for Documentary Studies has given awards to more than 350 emerging and established documentarians to recognize excellence and extend monetary support.

Featured Awards

Additional Awards

From 2013 to 2020, the CDS Documentary Essay Prize honored the best in short-form documentary photography and writing in alternating years: one year, photos; one year, writing. The focus was on current or recently completed work (within the last two years) from a long-term project — 15 images; 15 to 20 pages of writing. The winner of the competition received $3,000 and was featured in CDS’s digital publications and placed in the Archive of Documentary Arts at the Rubenstein Library, Duke University.


  • 2020: Amanda Russhell Wallace
  • 2019: Beaudelaine Pierre
  • 2018: Nastassia Kantorowicz Torres
  • 2017: Carrie Laben
  • 2016: Jessica Eve Rattner
  • 2015: Abbie Gascho Landis
  • 2014: Iveta Vaivode
  • 2013: Rachel Andrews

The Tifft Initiative at CDS explores the meaningful ways in which documentary approaches and methods can inform, and be informed by, journalism’s evolution in the digital era. Part of CDS’s DocX Lab, it brings together documentary artists, journalists, media professionals, independent publishers and others working in text, photography, radio and film. The DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy is a partner on the project.

The project was initiated by a lead gift from CDS board member Diane Britz Lotti, and is named after a friend whose devotion to the power and importance of journalism guided her life’s work. Susan Tifft was a member of the CDS board for five years until her passing in 2010, and was the Eugene C. Patterson Professor of the Practice of Journalism at the Sanford School from 1998 to 2009. A graduate of Duke, Tifft worked as a press secretary, a political speechwriter, and a prizewinning reporter and editor at Time magazine; she was coauthor of two biographies of newspaper dynasty families, the Binghams (Louisville Courier-Journal) and the Ochs-Sulzbergers (New York Times).

The Susan Tifft Fellows, the inaugural program of the initiative, are selected from an international pool of women media artists, journalists, and documentarians for a one-week creative residency at CDS.


  • 2019: Daphne McWilliams
  • 2018: Ruxandra Guidi
  • 2017: Nina Berman

CDS and the Honickman Foundation, based in Philadelphia, concluded their mutually enriching and successful collaboration on the CDS/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography in 2017. The biennial prize, first conceived in 2000 by Lynne Honickman and CDS’s founding director, Iris Tillman Hill, was awarded to a total of eight photographers.

The only prize of its kind, the CDS/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography competition was open to North American photographers of any age who had yet to publish a book-length work of their photographs. The eight winners received a grant of $3,000, publication of a book of photography, and inclusion in a website devoted to presenting the work of the prizewinners. The winner was also given a solo exhibition at the photography gallery at Duke University’s Rubenstein Library; the photographs are now housed in the library’s Archive of Documentary Arts.

The Honickman Foundation’s belief that the arts are powerful tools for enlightenment, equity, and empowerment, in concert with CDS’ commitment to the presentation of experiences that heighten our historical and cultural awareness, made the collaboration on this important prize celebrating contemporary photography and the lasting power of the book a singular and significant one.

The CDS/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography had a profound impact on its winners, the photographic community, and the culture at large, and it was a great pleasure and honor for both institutions to be involved in creating and administering this prestigious award. We are proud of all of the winners of the prize and their books, published by Duke University Press.


  • 2016: Lauren Pond, "Test of Faith"
  • 2014: Nadia Sablin, "Aunties"
  • 2012: Gerard H. Gaskin, "Legendary"
  • 2010: Benjamin Lowy, "Iraq | Perspectives"
  • 2008: Jennette Williams, "The Bathers"
  • 2006: Danny Wilcox Frazier, "Driftless"
  • 2004: Steven B. Smith, "The Weather and a Place to Live"
  • 2002: Larry Schwarm, "On Fire"

For Undergraduates

CDS encourages student involvement beyond the classroom and offers resources and learning opportunities that include awards, fellowships and related experiences.

Featured Awards