“The power of the photographic book as a vehicle for the dissemination of subtly inflected ideas—of poetic visions that may be subversive, confounding, or even tragic—has only increased as electronic media have flourished, for the carefully composed and printed book is a form of permanence . . . an eloquent unit of cogency in the sea of randomness. . . .”—Maria Morris Hambourg, 2004 First Book Prize judge
“Picture books, books of photographs, are not being lost to the digital revolution; if anything they have become only more meaningful, more treasured.”—Sandra S. Phillips, 2014 First Book Prize judge
North American photographers pursuing work of creative or social importance have too few opportunities for support and recognition. The chance to see a body of work in print, as the photographer envisions it, is rare. Thus, the Center for Documentary Studies (CDS) and The Honickman Foundation (THF), based in Philadelphia, came together to create the prestigious CDS/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography, the only prize of its kind. The biennial competition is open to North American photographers of any age who have never published a book-length work and who use their cameras for creative exploration. The prize honors work that is visually compelling, that bears witness, and that has integrity of purpose. A significant artist, curator, or writer in photography is chosen to judge the prize and write an introduction to the winning book—past judges have included Robert Adams, Robert Frank, Mary Ellen Mark, William Eggleston, and Deborah Willis.
Since 2002, seven photographers have received a grant of $3,000, publication of a book of photography, and inclusion in a website devote to to presenting the work of the prizewinners (firstbookprizephoto.com). Winners also receive a solo exhibit; their photographs are then placed in the Archive of Documentary Arts in Duke University’s Rubenstein Library.
In 2014, freelance photographer Nadia Sablin was chosen by curator and historian Sandra S. Phillips to win the seventh First Book Prize for her color series Aunties, which documents, as Sablin writes, “the lives of my aunts who live in Northwest Russia. Alevtina and Ludmila are in their seventies but carry on the traditional Russian way of life, chopping wood for heating the house, bringing water from the well, planting potatoes, and making their own clothes.”
For more information about Aunties and to view a gallery of images: documentarystudies.duke.edu/books/new-releases/aunties. To see videos of Nadia Sablin’s aunts at work: vimeo.com/31991444 and vimeo.com/47606270.