2014 Documentary Essay Prize Winner: Iveta Vaivode

Iveta Vaivode

The CDS Documentary Essay Prize honors the best in documentary photography and writing in alternating years: one year, photos; one year, writing. The focus is on current or recently completed work from a long-term project. The 2014 prize competition was awarded in photography. The winning essay, “Somewhere on a Disappearing Path,” was submitted by Iveta Vaivode, a freelance photographer based in Riga, Latvia. With her essay, Vaivode seeks to create a new family album, one full of images of memories she’s imagined. She writes, “‘Come, child! Let’s listen to the bees singing,’ my aunt would say every evening before we would go to bed. I remember her singing while working in the garden, songs about the nature surrounding her. She would also spend long hours with me talking about the family I never knew. 

“Looking at my parents’ family albums, I would imagine their lives before me. I constructed memories I didn’t have, playing them over and over again. Somehow I always felt that the people I saw in the albums differed from the people I saw next to me every day. These photographs, while connected with a particular family history, triggered my imagination rather than gave me a specific knowledge. . . .

“The ambivalence of photographs, their possibilities and limitations, suggest that we should not trust images as records of our lives and histories. . . . My work addresses the idea of memory and ‘looking back’ through the creation of a narrative based on family history.”

For the last three years, Vaivode has been documenting the people of Pilcene, a remote village in eastern Latvia where her grandmother and mother were born, to search for stories connected to her family. She discovered that the rural landscape and the people of Pilcene were quite different than she had expected, transforming her project from “a nostalgic photo album into a peculiarly dramatic portrait of perhaps the last inhabitants of a contemporary Latgale village.”


Iveta Vaivode received a BA in Photography from the Arts Institute at Bournemouth in England in 2008 and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in photography from the University of Art and Design in Helsinki, Finland. She has received recognition and awards from Burn magazine’s Emerging Photographer Fund, Berlin Talents, Nikon Discovery Award, and AOP Student Photographer of the Year, and her work has been exhibited at the New York Photo Festival, the Photographers Gallery in London, and in galleries in Latvia, Lithuania, France, Belgium, China, and Turkey. Vaivode’s photographs have appeared in Latvian Photography Yearbook 2013, the British Journal of Photography, PDN Photo Annual, Seesaw magazine, LensCulture, thisispaper, and Image, among others.



There were 7 finalists for the 2014 CDS Documentary Essay Prize in Photography, selected from 135 entries. The shortlist:

Mustafah Abdulaziz, “Water”
Justin Maxon, “Heaven’s Gain”
Dara McGrath, “Project Cleansweep: Beyond the Pastoral Military Landscape of the United Kingdom”
Myriam Meloni, “Behind the Absence”
Noritaka Minami, “1972”
Chris Payne, “Textiles: Made in America”
Magda Rakita, “God Made Woman, Then He Jerked”
Eirini Vourloumis, “In Waiting”
Wesley Thomas Wong, “The Ice Man Cometh”