CDS Documentary Essay Prize

Photograph from “Point d’eau” by Nastassia Kantorowicz Torres, winner of the 2018 CDS Documentary Essay Prize in Photography. Refugee man’s shower sandals, Grande-Synthe, 2018. The 50-150 refugees living outside in the forest have no access to safe water and sanitation.
Photograph from “Point d’eau” by Nastassia Kantorowicz Torres, winner of the 2018 CDS Documentary Essay Prize in Photography. Refugee man’s shower sandals, Grande-Synthe, 2018. The 50-150 refugees living outside in the forest have no access to safe water and sanitation.

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 writing. The winner of the competition receives $3,000 and feature stories in Center for Documentary Studies’ print and digital publications. The winner’s work is also placed in the Archive of Documentary Arts at the Rubenstein Library, Duke University.

Submissions for the 2019 CDS Documentary Essay Prize in Writing will be accepted from November 15, 2018, to February 15, 2019. The winner will be publicly announced in June 2019. See How to Enter and FAQ’s.

The 2018 prize, for photography, was awarded to Nastassia Kantorowicz Torres for “Point d’eau.” For seven months last year, Kantorowicz Torres, a freelance photographer based in Colombia and France, covered the response of the French government, NGOs, and ordinary citizens to questions of access to safe drinking water and sanitation services for refugees in northern France. Her essay gives a rare vantage on the lives of these refugees, and quietly reveals the “hospitality and solidarity of citizens in response to the government’s restrictions on water access” by making portraits not of people but of place.

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.