The Susan E. Tifft Initiative on Documentary and Journalism

Rig Mosaic, Susquehanna and Bradford Counties, Pennsylvania, 2016

Za’atari Wall #1, Za’atari Refugee Camp, Jordan, 2014. Photograph by inaugural Susan Tifft Fellow, Nina Berman.


A new program at the Center for Documentary Studies (CDS) will explore the meaningful ways in which documentary approaches and methods can inform, and be informed by, journalism’s evolution in the digital era. The Susan E. Tifft Initiative on Documentary and Journalism, part of CDS’s emerging Documentary Lab (DocX), will bring together documentary artists, journalists, media professionals, independent publishers, and others working in text, photography, radio, and film. The DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy is partnering on the project.

“Today’s incredibly complicated environments—visual, technological, political, social—have really pushed to the forefront some of the questions that have long been contemplated at CDS,” says CDS director Wesley Hogan. “We wanted to create a meeting place to delve into how some of the time-honored traits of documentary—such as artistic points of view and extensive fieldwork, reflection, and analysis—might suggest new forms of journalism, and by the same token, how the current practices and realities of journalism might help shape the documentary form and its usefulness in society.”

The project was initiated by a lead gift from CDS Board member Diane Britz Lotti, and is named after a friend whose devotion to the power and importance of journalism guided her life’s work. Susan Tifft was a member of the CDS Board for five years until her passing in 2010, and was the Eugene C. Patterson Professor of the Practice of Journalism at the Sanford School from 1998 to 2009. A graduate of Duke, Tifft worked as a press secretary, a political speechwriter, and a prize-winning reporter and editor at Time magazine; she was coauthor of two biographies of newspaper dynasty families, the Binghams (Louisville Courier-Journal) and the Ochs-Sulzbergers (New York Times).

The Susan Tifft Fellows, the inaugural program of the initiative, will be selected from an international pool of women media artists, journalists, and documentarians for a one-week creative residency at CDS. Fellowships will be granted by invitation for ongoing work that experiments with and pushes forward issues at the intersection of documentary and journalism and that explores narrative forms, digital expression, and stories that contribute to a more just, inclusive world.

The first Susan Tifft Fellow, Nina Berman, will give a public presentation at CDS on April 13, 2017: “Counternarrative and Collaboration in Documentary and Journalism." Berman is a documentary photographer whose work has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, among many national and international venues. She is the author of two acclaimed monographs—Purple Hearts and Homeland—and her photo series Marine Wedding is considered an iconic work on the Iraq war. Berman teaches at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and is a member of the Amsterdam-based NOOR photo collective.