2018 Lange–Taylor Prize: Daniel Ramos, "The Land of Illustrious Men"

Daniel Ramos

The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University has awarded the twenty-sixth Dorothea Lange–Paul Taylor Prize to American photographer Daniel Ramos. The $10,000 prize supports the advancement of an ongoing fieldwork project that fully exploits the relationship of words and images in the powerful, persuasive representation of a subject.

Ramos’s winning proposal, “The Land of Illustrious Men”—the informal name of Lampazos de Naranjo, the town where his mother’s family comes from in the state of Nuevo León, Mexico—is a “photo-novella” that combines photographs and writing with family photographs and ephemera to explore the “understated drama of many immigrants' lives in the United States of America,” as Ramos writes.

“My parents are Mexican, and they both immigrated to the United States for a better life. They met at an English language class in Chicago. As a first-generation immigrant, I am a new identity, and I embrace that Identity. I have been working on this project for nineteen years, taking photographs in Illinois and Nuevo León of the people and places that reflect my life between two worlds. The text is a combination of my parents’ history passed down to me, along with my ideas and feelings about their stories. I have written the text in a matter-of-fact way but something more than facts is hidden inside these sentences; there is drama, comedy, aggression, dreams, death, love, faith, hope, and more. The novella, or as many people call it, soap opera, does work that the photographs cannot do on their own, and makes it more democratic. This is a crucial point for me, because all I have wanted in life is to tell the story of those who do not get the chance to do so and to have it heard by many.”

My grandmother always used to brag about how many illustrious men came out of her hometown. Whenever I would answer, ‘Yeah how many of them did you know?’ She would look at me and say, “I didn’t know any of them. I was hoping you would become one of them.” I think back on her remark now, and I can sincerely say that all the people in this project are ‘illustrious men’ because they have worked for a dream.”

With the help of the prize, I plan on continuing work on the photo-novella by doing scholarly research on issues of identity, immigration, and cultural assimilation, as well as traveling back to Mexico to photograph and search for more archival images.”

Daniel Ramos, a freelance photographer based in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A., and Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico, was raised in Chicago and in Lampazos de Naranjo. He received his BA in photography from Columbia College, Chicago, and studied for an MFA in photography at the California College of the Arts. He has received El Tiempo Award from Cuartoscuro, En Foco’s New Works Photography Fellowship Award, and has been twice awarded the Albert Weisman Grant for Continuing Art Projects. Ramos’s work has been exhibited, most recently, at the Fototeca de Zacatecas Pedro Valtierra, Zacatecas, Mexico; he has two forthcoming shows, at the Center for Photography at Woodstock in October 2018 and at Filter Space in Chicago in July 2019. He is currently developing a book for The Land of Illustrious Men with Hydra + Fotografía in Mexico City.

Honorable mentions were awarded to Canadian photographers and journalists Laurence Butet-Roch and Ian Willms of the Boreal Collective for “Our Grandfathers Were Chiefs/As Long as the Sun Shines,” an investigation of environmental racism, a form of contemporary colonialism, that focuses on the “current impacts of the petroleum industries” on two indigenous communities, and to photographer Diana Markosian for her transmedia project “Santa Barbara,” which explores immigration through the experiences of one family, her own.

The other finalists for the 2018 Lange-Taylor Prize, both individuals and teams, were Laylah Amatullah Barrayn, Kristin Cass and Cristina Cass, Shannon Davis, Megan E. Doherty, Jošt Franko and Meta Krese, Tamar Lando, Elliot Ross and Genevieve Allison, Kris Sanford, Salgu Wissmath, and Gesche Würfel.