Photographer Sally Mann has been awarded the winning title of the 9th cycle of the Prix Pictet with her series Blackwater (2008-2012). The free exhibition is showing at the Porter Gallery in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, featuring work of all twelve shortlisted entrants until 9 January 2022.
Founded in 2008 by the Pictet Group, the Prix Pictet is the world’s leading award for photography and sustainability, with aims to draw global attention to environmental issues. Topical themes for each year thus far have been Water, Earth, Growth, Power, Consumption, Disorder, Space and Hope.
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Mann will receive a cash prize of 100,000 Swiss Francs (US$109,000 / £82,000 / AU$151,000), and her work exhibited at the V&A alongside the other shortlisted photographers.
Sally Mann is already considered as an eminent photographer, recognized for her large-format, black-and-white photographs and emotive subjects of forest fires and decaying landscapes captured in interesting ways.
Born in 1951, Mann has over 50 years of experience in the industry, beginning to study photography in the 1960s receiving a BA and MA from Hollins College, Roanoke, Virginia. Her first solo exhibition in 1977 presented her earlier works on The Lewis Law portfolio (1974-1976), publishing two books in the early 1980s and focusing on the American South towards the later 1990s into the 2000s.
Her winning series, Blackwater, documents the devastating wildfires that encased the Great Dismal Swamp in southeastern Virginia, where the first slave ships are said to have docked in America. In Blackwater, Mann draws parallels between the blazing wildfires she encountered in Virginia with prominent racial conflicts in America.
Mann elaborates on this, further explaining:
“The fires in the Great Dismal Swamp seemed to epitomize the great fire of racial strife in America – the Civil War, emancipation, the Civil Rights Movement, in which my family was involved, the racial unrest of the late 1960s and most recently the summer of 2020. Something about the deeply flawed American character seems to embrace the apocalyptic as solution.”
She continues: "By the time I was exploring it [the swamp], vast fires, easily viewed from space, had begun consuming the swamp and continued to burn, forcing me to trespass past safety barriers warning of danger...it seems a fitting, apocalyptic end that a place so filled with pain should, a century and a half later, be devoured by an all-cleansing fire."
The theme for this ninth cycle of the award was 'Fire' with each of the shortlisted bodies of work representing this notion. Drawing on major global events and personal experiences as inspiration, the twelve shortlisted photographers, including Mann, have submitted some outstanding works. Speaking on the choice of theme for the award, chair Stephen Barber explains:
“Fire has hardly been out of the news since the inferno that consumed Notre Dame in Paris in early 2019. We have seen record rainforest blazes in the Amazon, forest and bush fires in Australia and conflagrations in California. It is the fourth element. Fire destroys and it renews. Fire means survival, renewal, and economic prosperity. Yet our abuse of this most capricious of elements is the source of most of our environmental woes.”
In a statement issued on behalf of the Prix Pictet Jury, Sir David King, Chairman, said: “The jury considered an exceptional group of artists, each of whom demonstrated a highly distinctive approach to the theme, at times challenging our understanding of what photography can be. Sally Mann’s series in particular is a brilliant repurposing of historic photographic process to tell a chilling contemporary story. At the end of a rich debate the jury were unanimous in their decision that she was a worthy winner of the 9th Prix Pictet.”
The shortlisted photographers from this year are:
Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige (Lebanon)
Rinko Kawauchi (Japan)
Sally Mann (USA)
Christian Marclay (USA/ Switzerland)
Fabrice Monteiro (Belgium/Benin)
Lisa Oppenheim (USA)
Mak Remissa (Cambodia)
Carla Rippey (Mexico)
Mark Ruwedel (USA)
Brent Stirton (South Africa)
David Uzochukwu (Austria/Nigeria)
Daisuke Yokota (Japan)