Heroine Sally Mann takes first place with her 2008-2012 series Blackwater
The Prix Pictet is perhaps the foremost international photography award concerning sustainability. With a particular focus on environmental issues, there have been nine cycles of the award to date. Each has highlighted a particular facet of sustainability; Water, Earth, Growth, Power, Consumption, Disorder, Space, Hope and, in 2021, Fire.
The award is given to a photographer who, in the opinion of the independent jury, has produced a series of work that is both artistically outstanding and presents a compelling narrative related to the theme of the award.
Blackwater 20, 2008 – 2012 From the series Blackwater, 2008–12 Tintype © Sally Mann, Gagosian, Prix Pictet. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian
Previous winners of the Prix Pictet include leading women in photography such as Valérie Belin and Joana Choumali. Responding to the 2021 theme with her series Blackwater (2008 – 2012), Contemporary Heroine Sally Mann has emerged as this year’s overall winner.
Chosen from a shortlist of thirteen acclaimed artists including fellow Contemporary Heroine Rinko Kawauchi, Sally Mann’s Blackwater explores the devastating wildfires which decimated the Great Dismal Swamp in southeastern Virginia, where the first slave ships docked in North America.
Through her striking black and white photography, Sally draws a parallel between the all-consuming wildfires she encountered there and racial conflict in the country at large.
As she explains,
“the fires in the Great Dismal Swamp seemed to epitomise 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.”
Blackwater 1, 2008 - 2012. From the series Blackwater, 2008–12 Tintype © Sally Mann, Gagosian, Prix Pictet. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian
Blackwater 3 2008 – 2012 From the series Blackwater, 2008–12 Tintype © Sally Mann, Gagosian, Prix Pictet Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian
In a statement issued on behalf of the Prix Pictet Jury, Sir David King, Chairman of the Jury, said: “This past summer we were inundated with images of fire at its most frighteningly destructive… Of course, fire is a most capricious element, and its various faces were present in the group of shortlisted series. […] Sally Mann’s series in particular is a brilliant repurposing of historic photographic process to tell a chilling contemporary story.”
Drawing on major global events and personal experiences as inspiration, the work of the other shortlisted photographers joins Sally’s winning photographs on display at the V&A’s Porter Gallery this winter. Visitors can view the full range of works until 9th January 2022.