CDS Documentary Essay Prize

The CDS Documentary Essay Prize honors the best in short-form documentary photography and writing in alternating years: one year, photos; one year, writing. The focus is on current or recently completed work (within the last two years) from a long-term project—fifteen images; fifteen to twenty pages of writing.



The upcoming prize competition will be for photography. The winner of the competition receives $3,000 and a feature story in the Center for Documentary Studies’ digital publications. The winner’s work is also placed in the Archive of Documentary Arts at the Rubenstein Library, Duke University.

Carrie Laben, a freelance writer based in Astoria, New York, won the 2017 prize, for writing. In her essay, “The Wrong Place,” Laben uses her knowledge of birds and personal experiences as a birdwatcher in New York City to investigate a land-use ethic for city-dwellers that represents a more unified vision of human-impacted ecosystems.  

Jessica Eve Rattner won the 2016 prize, in photography, for “House of Charm,” a ten-year portrait of Lee, Rattner’s eighty-year-old neighbor in Berkeley, California. The essay explores, with delicacy and respect, Lee’s story of aging alone and questions cultural ideas around beauty, happiness, and mental health.

Abbie Gascho Landis, a writer and veterinarian in Cobleskill, New York won the 2015 prize, for writing. In her essay, “Immersion,” Landis weaves personal experience into her investigation of native mussels and their freshwater habitats as one way of looking at water issues in the Deep South and elsewhere in the United States.

See How to Enter and FAQ’s

Submissions for the 2018 CDS Documentary Essay Prize in Photography will be accepted from November 1, 2017, to February 15, 2018. The winner will be announced to the public in June 2018.