Artist Sally Mann wins first prize in photography for her Wildfire series


American artist Sally Mann has been announced as the winner of a photography award for her series which captures the devastating wildfires in the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia.

The awards ceremony for the ninth cycle of the Pictet Prize, the world award for photography and sustainability, was held at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London, where Mann received a cash prize of 100,000 Swiss francs (£ 82,000).

The event marked the opening of an exhibition at the museum that showcases the 12 shortlisted photographic series for the award, all of which explore the award’s fire theme.

Mann’s winning series, titled Blackwater (2008-2012), focuses on the destructive wildfires that engulfed the Great Dismal Swamp in Southeast Virginia, where the first slave ships docked in America.

She explained that the photographs draw a parallel between the wildfires and racial conflict in America, saying, “The fires in the Great Dismal Swamp seemed to embody the great fire of racial conflict in America – civil war, emancipation. , the civil rights movement. , in which my family was involved, the racial unrest of the late 1960s and more recently the summer of 2020.

“Something about the deeply flawed American figure seems to take the apocalyptic as a solution.”

The Virginia-born artist, whose work often explores the tensions between nature, history and memory, is a three-time recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and was named Best American Photographer by Time magazine in 2001.

Speaking on behalf of the Pictet Prize jury, Sir David King, president of the jury, said: “If there has ever been a time for the Pictet Prize to address the theme of Fire, it is now.

“Last summer we were inundated with images of fire in its most frighteningly destructive form… Of course, fire is one of the most temperamental elements, and its various faces were present in the pre-selected series roster.

“The jury considered an exceptional group of artists, each of whom demonstrated a very distinct approach to the theme, sometimes challenging our understanding of what photography can be.

“Sally Mann’s series, in particular, is a brilliant re-use of the historical photographic process to tell a chilling contemporary story.

“At the end of a rich debate, the jury was unanimous in considering that she was a worthy winner of the 9th Prix Pictet.

The Pictet Prize, which was founded in 2008, aims to “promote discussion and debate on critical issues of sustainability”.

Each award cycle tours around the world, with exhibitions in over a dozen venues, showcasing the work of shortlisted photographers to a large international audience.

The exhibition, entitled Prix Pictet: Fire, is on display until January 9, 2022 at the V&A.

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