Just two months after joining the prestigious NOOR photo agency, Léonard Pongo has won the $5000 2017 Visura Grant for Outstanding Personal Project.
Pongo has won the prize for his ongoing series The Uncanny, which is shot in The Congo. Born in Belgium in 1988 to a Belgian mother and a Congolese father, Pongo started the project as an attempt to reconnect with his Congolese heritage. He first visited the country in 2011, staying with his Congolese family – most of whom he had never met before – and arriving as the DRC held its second ever democratic elections, for both Presidential and Legislative positions.
“I am conscious that photographing in the Congo, as a photographer educated in Europe, reveals my own limitations (in accessing and understanding the environment), bias, and stereotypes,” he says. “However, by turning to a more personal story and documenting my confrontation with my family, the country, and by relying on friends and siblings to introduce me to their visions of this environment, I hope to be able to overcome some of these limitations. That’s also why I started photographing in a more expressionist way, not trying to use photography as a tool to explain the world, but rather as a language that can translate a personal experience of it.
“I chose to photograph in a way that combines a documentary and a diaristic approach. Moving away from ‘truth photography’ and abstracting the environment allows me to concentrate on that experience and translate it visually, forcing emotion, rather than facts, to condition the way the images are created and interpreted.”
The runner-up in the 2017 Visura Grant was Colombian-American photographer Juan Arredondo for his project Everybody needs a good neighbor, which documents current and former soldiers in Colombia as they move back into civilian lives. In addition, 20 other photographers were given honourable mentions, listed here.
The judges for the 2017 Visura Grant were: Gina Martin from National Geographic Creatives; photographer, photo editor and curator Myles Little; Yukiko Yamagata, acting interim director for the Open Society Foundations Documentary Photography Project; Michael D Davis, Alexia Tsairis Chair for Documentary Photography at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University; and Monica Allende, freelance picture editor and curator and artistic director of Getxo Photo, Bilbao.