Narciso Contreras' series Libya: A Human Marketplace wins Carmignac Photojournalism Award

Five years since the fall of the Gaddafi regime in October 2011, Libya is experiencing an unprecedented political, military and humanitarian crisis. While the Government of National Accord created under the aegis of the UN has not yet managed to exercise its authority, violent fighting between militias and rival factions keeps breaking out in this territory on a daily basis. The surge of hope that followed the revolution has now given way to chaos.
Throughout his series, Narciso Contreras, a documentary photographer born in Mexico City in 1975, shows  how, instead of being a place of transit for migrants on their way to Europe, Libya has become a trafficking market – a place where people are bought and sold on a daily basis.
In the heart of post-Gaddafi Libya, illegal migrants, refugees and asylum seekers are at the mercy of a complex human trafficking industry that is tolerated, informally, by the country’s many militia. Held in detention centres, these people; are subjected to inhumane conditions – overcrowding, lack of sanitation, vicious beatings.
Contreras grappled with complex and at times surreal bureaucracy and logistics, picking his way through areas torn apart by sectarian violence in order to visit detention centre after detention centre.
Frustrated by the government’s unwillingness to grant him access, Contreras was forced to circumnavigate the official channels and cultivate his own contact with people smugglers and tribespeople.
Contreras has had a stories career. He studied philosophy, photography and visual anthropology, which, he says, led him to live and study in a monastery in India while photographing religious communities.
Since then, Narciso has photographed under-reported issues like the ethnic war in Myanmar and the forgotten war in Yemen, as well as some of the major current events like the political upheavals in Istanbul, the conflict in Gaza, the military coup in Egypt, the war in Syria and the tribal conflict in Libya.
Narciso’s work in Syria was awarded with one of the Pulitzer Prizes in 2013, and received recognition in Pictures of the Year International.
He has contributed to magazines and media outlets around the globe including TIME magazine, The Guardian, The New York Times, Paris Match, RT TV, MSNBC News, AP Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, Foreign Policy, Der Spiegel, Newsweek, Al Jazeera, The Daily Beast, National Geographic, The Sunday Times magazine, The Telegraph, The Washington Post, CNN and Wall Street Journal.
Contreras is currently photographing the migrants’ crisis in North Africa as part of a long-term project of documentation based on the worldwide conceived phenomenon of a “massive human displacement”.
The jury for the Carmignac Photojournalism Award was chaired by Brett Rogers, Director of The Photographers’ Gallery (London), and included the photojournalist Reza, Patrick Baz, Founder of the Photo Desk for the Middle East and North Africa at the Agence France Presse, Janine di Giovanni, Editor-in-chief for Newsweek’s Middle East desk, Thierry Grillet, Chief Curator of Bibliothèque nationale de France, Mikko Takkunen, Photo Editor at the New York Times, and Christophe Gin, Laureate of the 6th Carmignac photojournalism Award.
The Carmignac Photojournalism Award aims to support a photojournalist in undertaking a photographic and investigative assignment exploring zones where human rights and freedom of speech are violated. The Award provides the winner with €50,000 to enable then to go into the field, as well as a fully-financed monograph and a touring exhibition of the project.
Each year, at the end of the five-month photo report in the selected area, the work of the Carmignac photojournalism Award Laureate is the subject of both a major exhibition in Paris and in London, as well as a monograph.
This year, the exhibition will take place at the Hôtel de l’Industrie, in the heart of the Saint-Germain district in Paris, bringing together 32 photographs by Narciso Contreras.
A monograph will be published by Skira to mark the exhibition and launched for the opening.
More information is available here.

Tom Seymour

Tom Seymour is an Associate Editor at The Art Newspaper and an Associate Lecturer at London College of Communication. His words have been published in The Guardian, The Observer, The New York Times, Financial Times, Wallpaper* and The Telegraph. He has won Writer of the Year and Specialist Writer of the year on three separate occassions at the PPA Awards for his work with The Royal Photographic Society.