Frequently Asked Questions

What are the members of CDS’s judging panel for the CDS Documentary Essay Prize looking for in a successful photographic essay, one that is strong enough to win the competition?

All entries must have one thing in common: evidence that they were created with reliance on documentary methods and immersive fieldwork. We are interested in work that directs its gaze outward, that curiously engages with the world, and that is, as former CDS director Tom Rankin describes, “derived from an in-depth understanding of place, history, and the current situation, in concert with a personal relationship to the proposed work. Ultimately, the commitment is to use documentary expression to motivate the thinking and reflection of others.” The judging will be based only on the work as presented, with focus on the strength and nuance of the essay submitted as a narrative; the subject matter can be weighty or light-hearted.

The competition’s review and selection process is geared toward fairness. An entry is reviewed again (and again) if even only one panelist would like to keep it under consideration.

Are there restrictions on who can apply?

The prize is intended to reward a single artist for excellence in documentary photography on any subject.

There are no restrictions on the age and nationality of the applicants. Individuals currently associated with the Center for Documentary Studies are not eligible for the prize.

Please send any questions about the guidelines and eligibility to Brittany Barbee at the Center for Documentary Studies at

How many times can I enter?

You can submit as many entries as you wish, however, please note: If you are submitting multiple pieces of writing you will need to register online at with a different email address for each entry. (All of your other contact information, except the email address, can stay the same.) Multiple entries must be for distinct and separate works.

If I have trouble submitting my entry, whom do I contact?

For technical support related to uploading documents, entry forms, and/or payments, please contact Slideroom



By entering the CDS Documentary Essay Prize, you agree that the Center for Documentary Studies is permitted to receive your registration data. Participants agree that personal data including, but not limited to, name, mailing address, phone number, and email address may be collected, processed, stored and otherwise used for the purposes of conducting and administering the competition.

The CDS Documentary Essay Prize reserves the right to not consider entries that fail to meet the submission requirements listed under How to Enter.

Staff and faculty of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University are not eligible to enter the competition.

The $3,000 award will be reported to the winner on a 1099-Miscellaneous tax form. It is the responsibility of the winners to file their tax liability.