2020 Lange-Taylor Prize: Tarrah Krajnak, "El Jardín De Senderos Que Se Bifurcan"

Tarrah Krajnak

Tarrah Krajnak Wins 2020 Lange-Taylor PrizeA black and white photo of Tarrah Krajnak

Honorable Mention Awarded to Philippe Calia and Sunil Thakkar

The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University has awarded the twenty-eighth Dorothea Lange–Paul Taylor Prize to Peruvian-born American artist and documentarian Tarrah Krajnak. 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.

Krajnak’s winning proposal, “El Jardín De Senderos Que Se Bifurcan,” employs archival collections, oral histories, performance, re-photography, and “poetic forms of mis-translation” as a means to explore identity in relation to being “transracial—indigenous to Peru but raised within a white family,” she writes. Orphaned as an infant and adopted into a multiracial family from American coal country, Krajnak was raised as a twin to her African American brother. This early experience of racial difference has driven her interest in identity, origins, and inherited histories.

“The late cultural theorist Stuart Hall has written that identities emerge as ‘unfinished conversations,’ formed ‘at the unstable point where personal lives meet the narrative of history.’ This unstable point and time in my own life was Lima, Peru, 1979—a transitional period between the military dictatorship of the 1970s and the onset of the Shining Path’s guerilla war in 1980.

“The city was transformed by an unprecedented wave of migrants from the Andes and the Amazon. Fleeing violence, they settled in sprawling slums, dramatically transforming and disrupting Lima and its centuries-old traditions. My birth mother was one of many young indigenous women uprooted in that explosive moment; like her peers, she was vulnerable in a brutal and dangerous place. 1979 was a year that created orphans.

“When I started this project in 2013, I set out not to recover some stable, ‘authentic’ identity hidden by the circumstances of my birth and adoption but rather to patch together, reclaim, or invent something like a psychic history of the year 1979.

“My project engages with a set of marginalized political histories, including violence against women, mass rape as a weapon of war, and the trauma hidden in the photographic archive. I am interested in developing new strategies for exploring the social landscapes of telling history. Resurrection and re-enactment offer a means of liberation from conventional documentary categories and storylines: My work expands on the documentary tradition by drawing from the Latin American poetics of imagination and magical realism. Throughout my work, I use mis-remembering to create shifting juxtapositions of bodies, objects, and texts that blur chronologies and geographies and allow the past to collapse into the present and future.

“If awarded the Lange-Taylor Prize, I plan to return to Lima, post-Covid, to conduct further fieldwork in the handwritten archives of the orphanage, focusing on the lived experiences of transracial adoptees born between 1977–92.

Tarrah Krajnak is an associate professor of art at Pitzer College in Claremont, California. She has exhibited nationally and internationally at Honor Fraser Gallery, as-is.la gallery, Houston Center for Photography, SUR Biennial Los Angeles, Silver Eye Center for Photography, Center for Photography Woodstock, SF Camerawork, Philadelphia Photographic Arts Center, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Photo Madrid, Photo London, Belfast Photography Festival, and Unseen Amsterdam. Her work has been published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Nueva Luz, Strange Fire Collective, and Camerawork, and she has received grants from the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Arizona Commission on the Arts, the Texas Photographic Society, and most recently, the Harpo Foundation. Krajnak is a 2020 Lightwork AIR Recipient and has forthcoming solo exhibitions at Filter Photo in Chicago and Lux Art Institute in San Diego.

An honorable mention was awarded to Philippe Calia, a French artist based in Bangalore, India, and Sunil Thakkar, an Indian artist based in Mumbai, for their multimedia project “If the House . . .”—composed of found images, audio recordings, and video projections—which explores dislocation and disruption in Bombay/Mumbai through “damaged, scattered, or lost family photos.”

The other finalists for the 2020 Lange-Taylor Prize are Michel Bührer for “Babel in New York,” Kris Davidson for “The American Imagination,” J Houston for “A Scale of 1 to 10,” Catherine Hyland for “The Traces Left Behind,” Cheryl Mukherji for “Ghorer Bairer Aalo (The Light Outside Home),” Jordan Putt for “Padrino,” Jason Reblando and Joanne Diaz for “La Ruta: Walter Benjamin’s Last Passage,” and Patrick Wack and Julien Syrac for “Minor Differences”

The members of the 2020 Dorothea Lange–Paul Taylor Prize selection committee: Whitney Baker, Brittany Barbee, Michael Betts II, Alexa Dilworth, Kelsey Favret, Wesley Hogan, Mara Guevarra, Xaris Martínez, Quadiriah McCullough, William Page, Azzan Quick, Liz Phillips, and Courtney Reid-Eaton