The shortlists are out for the Kraszna-Krausz Book Awards and the result for the photobook prize is striking – this year, all three shortlisted books are by women, with Laia Abril’s On Abortion (Dewi Lewis Publishing), Deana Lawson: An Aperture Monograph, and Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness by Zanele Muholi (Aperture) all making the grade.
But, says chair of the Kraszna-Krausz, Brian Pomeroy, that fact shouldn’t stand out as remarkable. “We’ve had female winners before,” he says. “It just shows talent is equally distributed, and you wouldn’t expect anything else. There have been very strong female photographers since the beginning of photography, I don’t think it’s something new.”
Liz Jobey, associate editor of the FT Weekend Magazine and a member of the photobook jury along with Chrystel Lebas, photographer and Kraszna-Krausz Book Award Winner 2018, and Anne McNeill, director of the Impressions Gallery, agrees, adding that the jury was not deliberately looking out for books by women. But, she says, it is an interesting time in which photography – and society and culture more generally – is opening up to other perspectives, and that was naturally reflected in this year’s shortlist.
“Subjects that are very current – politically and socially – were very well-represented,” she tells BJP-online. “Race, women, the environment – it was very clear that photographers were concerned with all those issues.
“We weren’t rooting through the books trying to find them, they were there,” she adds. “All those subjects were represented, so it was finding the ones that we thought were really sharp. I think photographers are finding ways of expressing themselves in sometimes a non-narrative fashion, but in a way that makes it very clear that there is a political and social impetus behind the whole thing.”
In fact for Jobey, what stood out was the sheer standard of the entries. Presented with over 150 photobooks, which were submitted by their publishers or the photographers who had made them, the judges were able to “just narrow it down” to a longlist of ten, she says, a longlist which includes acclaimed books such as Masahisa Fukase by Masahisa Fukase and Tomo Kosuga (Editions Xavier Barral); One Wall a Web by Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa (Roma Publications); and Dawoud Bey: Seeing Deeply by Dawoud Bey (University of Texas Press).
“I think it was indicative of the strength of the longlisted titles that there was a lot of consensus among the judges,” she added, in a statement released by Kraszna-Krausz. “Some books just stood way out, and considering the standard of photography publishing today, that’s an accolade in itself. In some cases the interplay of text and pictures was absolutely crucial to the fabric of the book. If this is a sign of two worlds finally coming together in a creative way, it’s one to celebrate.”
As her words suggest, one of the factors that impressed her about the longlisted photobooks was their interplay of text and image, with, for example, Deana Lawson’s monograph featuring an award-winning essay by the writer Zadie Smith. Jobey, who worked on the literary publication Granta for ten years, hopes more literary writers and novelists will contribute to photobooks in future.
“These books were very complete in themselves, they reflected the subject of the photographs, and the text was integrated,” she says. “It wasn’t just an add-on or an intellectual essay, the text was absolutely integral to the whole delivery of the subject.
The shortlisted books will now go on show at this year’s Photo London, and the winner of this category – and the Moving Image Book Award – will be announced during Photo London at the Royal Society of Arts on 16 May. As Pomeroy points out, Kraszna-Krausz has always been a prestigious photobok prize, and – established in 1988 – it is certainly one of the oldest. But he also hopes that in going to Photo London, they are raising the profile of the prize, and of photobooks more generally.
“Photo London is the pre-eminent show in the UK, so I think it’s a good place to be,” he says. “I hope it makes the general public more aware of these books – it all helps to promote the medium.”
The winners of the 2019 Kraszna-Krausz Book Awards are announced on 16 May. There are two categories – the Moving Image Book Award, and the Photography Book Award. Photo London takes place from 16-19 May at Somerset House, London.