Laura Morton wins the 2018 Canon Female Photojournalist Award

American photographer Laura Morton has won the 2018 Canon Female Photojournalist Award. The award gives her €8000 funding towards a new project, which will be exhibited at the 2019 Visa Pour l’Image festival.

Originally trained in Political Science and Journalism, Morton’s previous project on young tech entrepreneurs in San Francisco, Wild West Tech, was funded by the Magnum Foundation and published in BJP‘s April 2016 relaunch issue. But she won the award with a pitch for a new project titled University Avenue, named after a road which runs through two very different districts of Silicon Valley.

“Income inequality is one of the most pressing issues facing the world today,” Morton explains in her proposal on the project. “In America, the gap between rich and poor is the largest since the Roaring 20s. Two communities, side by side in California’s Bay Area clearly illustrate this divide: Palo Alto and East Palo Alto.

“While Palo Alto has benefitted from the massive fortunes created by Silicon Valley’s technology industry, East Palo Alto, most of which lies on the other side of Highway 101, has not been as fortunate: almost a fifth of its residents live below the poverty line. One street, University Avenue, runs through the heart of both communities. I will be using the street as a microcosm, documenting the stories of the individuals who live and work along it, to illustrate the stark economic divide between these two communities.”

Morton adds that this economic divide also has a racial dimension, with African-American families who headed from Southern to Western USA after World War Two pushed to live in designated minority areas, including East Palo Alto. Policies such as redlining, which saw banks refuse to give mortgages for minority communities, kept housing prices depressed, which in turn affected the tax base and schools in the area. Palo Alto, by contrast includes the elite Stanford University, and perfectly manicured mansions which have been bought up by the tech elite. Today East Palo Alto is 64.5% Latino, while Palo Alto is 64.2% white, says Morton.

“I am very excited and honored to have receive this award, which will give me the time necessary to produce a new body of work,” Morton told BJP. “Personally, I have found a grant to be a wonderful way to start a new project. When I begin a new body of work, I prepare by doing as much reading and research as possible to have a historical background and context as a foundation. However, when I begin shooting I do not go into it with a preconceived notion of what I will find. I like to spend a long time in the field, meeting and talking with people before I pick up a camera and let them lead me to what I should shoot and how I should shape the story.

“I find working this way very effective, but it does take time. Receiving a grant allows this. My last project, Wild West Tech, was started with a grant from the Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund. I doubt I would have produced the work I did without the time that grant allowed me to spend in the field in the first days of the project. Also, I am incredibly thankful to Canon for their support of female photojournalists and honored to be in the company of so many great women who have won this award in the past.”

The Canon Female Photojournalist Award was first presented in 2001, and previous winners include Ami Vitale (2003), Brenda Anne Kenneally (2008), Justyna Mielnikiewicz (2009), Martina Bacigalupo (2010), and Anastasia Rudenko (2015).

Diane Smyth

Diane Smyth is the editor of BJP, returning for a second stint on staff in 2023 - after 15 years on the team until 2019. As a freelancer, she has written for The Guardian, FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, Aperture, FOAM, Aesthetica and Apollo. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. You can follow her on instagram @dismy