Rebecca Fertinel wins the Unseen Dummy Award

Brussels-based photographer Rebecca Fertinel has won the Unseen Dummy Award with her book Ubuntu. The book shows Belgian people of Congolese descent, and represents “how people from other cultures live into another culture but try to keep on their values and traditions”, she tells BJP. The title is taken from the concept of “ubuntu” – the idea that “you become a human being by connecting with everything and everyone”.

The judges were particularly impressed with the editing of Fertinel’s book proposal which, they say, “transforms documentary photography into an unexpected narrative flow of community events”. The images move from a wedding party to another party to a funeral, for example, the latter creating “a kind of breaking point” in the middle of the book, creating “a kind of dance where you don’t know what comes after”, and thereby summing up something about life.

The judges were also impressed by the design of Fertinel’s book dummy, in which images are cut in half and printed on consecutive pages. Fertinel explains that the book was laid out in this way as it’s hard to see images printed across the centre “gutter” of the book – but, said the judges, halving the images also helped cut across the potential for cliché in photographing a wedding. “Due to the specific design of this book, the look of rapport between two spouses is delayed and they escape any forced or kitsch effect,” they stated. “They allow themselves to be discovered or caught, just as the scenes were caught by the photographer.”

Unseen Dummy Award ceremony, Unseen Amsterdam, 2018 © Maarten Nauw

This year’s international jury comprised of Sarah Allen (assistant curator, Tate Modern), Tim Clark (editor-in-chief and director, 1000 Words), Russet Lederman (co-founder, 10×10 Photobooks), Paul van Mameren (managing director, Lecturis) and Małgorzata Stankiewicz (winner of the Unseen Dummy Award 2017). Fertinel’s book will now be published and distributed by Lecturis, a Dutch photobook specialist; Lecturis published last year’s winning book dummy, Stankiewicz’s cry of an echo, in May.

The Unseen Dummy Award has been running since 2012; this year 212 submissions were entered and 34 book dummies made it to the shortlist. The runners-up this year were: Tarrah Krajnak (USA), El Jardín De Senderos Que Se Bifurcan, and Maria Sturm (Romania), You don’t look Native to me. The prize celebrates books-in-progress, say the organisers, and respects “a degree of rawness, including an ‘unfinished’ look and feel”.

++This article was updated on 25 September 2018 to clarify that the images in Ubuntu were shot in Belgium, not Congo++

Unseen Dummy Award 2018 © Frederique Scholtes, courtesy Unseen
Diane Smyth

Diane Smyth is a freelance journalist who contributes to publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, The FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, The Calvert Journal, Aperture, FOAM, IMA, Aesthetica and Apollo Magazine. Prior to going freelance, she wrote and edited at BJP for 15 years. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. You can follow her on instagram @dismy