W. Eugene Smith Grant announces $45k grant recipient

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The W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund has announced Argentinian photographer Irina Werning as the recipient of this year’s $30,000 USD ($45,000 AUD) W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography for her project, Las Pelilargas.

Image: Irina Werning
Image: Irina Werning

Since 2006, Werning has been seeking and photographing women in Argentina with long hair, a style that is influenced by a blend of South American cultures and indigenous traditions.

Werning’s project was selected from over 448 entries – the most in the grant’s history, representing 68 countries. Since the Smith Fund’s inception in 1979, it has awarded more than $1.3 million to photographers whose past work and proposed projects follow in the tradition of iconic US photographer W. Eugene Smith’s career as a photographic essayist.

Image: Irina Werning
Image: Irina Werning

The Grant will help Werning complete the final chapter of her long-term project and allow her to return to the towns where it all began.

“News that I had received this year’s grant arrived just when I was about to conclude this personal project due to a lack of funds,” said Werning. 

"The grant now gives me the opportunity to go deeper into the story and address some of the questions that emerged throughout this 17-year journey,” she continued. “I am so grateful for this honour.”

Image: Irina Werning
Image: Irina Werning

Scott Thode, president of the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund said the Fund was amazed by the quality of entries.

“We continue to be impressed and amazed at the quality of entries we receive each year, and the incredibly diverse stories photographers are sharing with the world,” he said.

“Irina’s project, represents what the W. Eugene Smith legacy and the fund itself stands for, which is a photographer’s commitment and stubbornness in pursuing the work over the years and against all odds,” explained Justyna Mielnikiewicz, one of this year’s Smith Grant judges, and recipient of the 2016 Smith Grant.

In addition, this year the Eugene Smith Fund has been able to increase its Fellowship grant to $10,000 USD, and add a Finalist Award, which provides $5,000 to a photographer whose entry is deemed by the judges to need special recognition.

Myriam Boulos (Lebanon) is this year’s recipient of the $10,000 Smith Fund Fellowship for her project, Sexual Fantasies, which documents the sexual fantasies of women and people socialized as women in Lebanon and the region.

The judges also presented the $5,000 Finalist Award to Fabian Ritter (Ukraine) for Youth of Ukraine, which takes an intimate look at young Ukrainians and shares their everyday lives and emotions during a war that seems to have no end in sight.

Finally, the $3,000 USD Eugene Smith Student Grant was awarded to Nigeria's Oyewole Lawal, a student at Nlele Institute in Lagos, for his series Guardians of Gaia: The Unseen Eco-Warriors, a visual documentary project spotlighting the unsung scavenger heroes of waste recycling in the city of Lagos, Nigeria.

Mr. Lawal plans to focus on one specific landfill, the Olusosun Landfill in Lagos, the largest in Africa, which includes over 40 acres of land and at least 10,000 tons of waste each day. More than 12,000 scavengers live and work there, with many of them migrating from northern Nigeria and the neighboring countries of Niger and Chad.

You can see all the awarded photographers' work at the W. Eugene Smith website. 

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