Introducing the shortlist for MACK’s First Book Award

Set up in 2012 to support emerging and unpublished photographers, MACK’s prestigious First Book Award has announced the shortlist for its ninth edition. The award, which accepts submissions via an open call, has helped to launch the careers of photographers including Paul Salveson, Hayahisa Tomiyasu and Joanna Piotrowska. 

This year’s jury included Michael Mack, founder of MACK; Jörg Colberg, writer, educator, and founder of online photography magazineConscientious; Ellis Jones, editor-in-chief of VICE Magazine; Joanna Piotrowska, winner of the 2014 First Book Award; and Polly Fleury, director of special projects at the Wilson Centre for Photography, London. 

The winning photobook, which will be announced on 14 May 2020 at Photo London, Somerset House, will be published by MACK. Below, we introduce the shortlisted titles.

Piccola Russia by Andrea Alessandrini

Piccola Russia, which means ‘Little Russia’ in Italian, explores the gentrification of Valle Aurelia, a built-up neighbourhood near the Vatican City in Rome. Shot between 2013 and 2018, Andrea Alessandrini captures the daily life of the neighbourhood’s inhabitants, focusing on details that embody elements of the past and future. The project takes its title from a rumour that Lenin once complemented the area as a model of communal life, dubbing it “Little Russia”.

From the project Piccola Russia by Andrea Alessandrini.

SHIFTERS by Marta Bogdańska

Prompted by a series of articles that describe animal spies — suspicious squirrels, spying dolphins, and nuclear lizards — Marta Bogdańska decided to initiate a research project about the use of animals as soldiers, spies, police, and kamikaze. I am interested in tracing back the historical chapters of animals in wars and espionage and analysing the meaning of the term ‘agent’ itself,” Bogdańska explains in a statement provided by MACK. The resulting photobook, SHIFTERS, is a 15 chapter, 746-page investigation of archival and found imagery, along with text.

SHIFTERS by Marta Bogdańska.
SHIFTERS by Marta Bogdańska.

Odsłonić by Maria Dabrowski 

An intimate investigation into the roots of her Polish-Ukranian heritage, Maria Dabrowski’s Odsłonić is a personal account of stories about expatriation, war crimes, and traumas. Including a conversation with Dabrowski’s grandfather about his memories of Poland’s “dark past”, Odsłonić, which means ‘to reveal’ or ‘to open’ in Polish, is a poetic exploration into Dabrowski’s family history.

Odsłonić by Maria Dabrowski.

Leaving and waving by Deanna Dikeman

For 27 years, Deanna Dikeman took photographs of her parents waving goodbye as she drove away from their home in Sioux City, Iowa, USA. “I never set out to make this series; I took these photographs as a way to deal with the sadness of leaving,” explains Dikeman in a statement provided by MACK. The project captures every goodbye from 1991. From 2009, her father is no longer there — he passed away a few days after his 91st birthday — and, in October 2017, Dikeman photographed an empty driveway following her mother’s funeral. “For the first time in my life, no one was waving back at me,” she says.

From the series Leaving and waving by Deanna Dikeman.

45 by Damian Heinisch

In 1945, Damian Heinisch’s grandfather disappeared. All that remains of his life is a diary, in which the last thing he describes is the train journey from Gliwice in Upper Silesia, Poland, to a labour camp in Debalzewe, Ukraine, to where he was transported alongside countless other men. 33-years-later, following a long period of unemployment, Heinisch’s father decided to leave his home in Gilwice to start a new life in West Germany. Prompted by this family history of forced immigration, Heinisch embarked on his own journey, beginning in Ukraine and ending in Oslo. The transitory photobook, 45, resulted from his journey.

Førtifem by Damian Heinisch.
Førtifem by Damian Heinisch.

Stadt, Land, Fluss by Jonas Feige

Stadt, Land, Fluss, which translates to ‘City, Land, River’ in English, is the name of a German quiz game about geography, and Berlin-based photographer Jonas Feige’s project of the same name traces his own quest through Germany — the result of an internal debate between “a romantic feeling of nostalgia, and a factual interest in the history of my own country”. 

Stadt, Land, Fluss by Jonas Feige.

Signs by the roadside by Miro Kuzmanovic

Shot in countries that were once part of former Yugoslavia, Miro Kuzmanovic’s Signs by the roadside explores the emotional weight of a country’s history, and the relationship between this and the individual. “It is also an autobiographical account of leaving, returning, and searching for answers,” explains Kuzmanovic in a statement provided by MACK.

Signs by the roadside by Miro Kuzmanovic.
Signs by the roadside by Miro Kuzmanovic.

What is the corner looking at? by Yura Kolomiets

Yura Kolomiets understands territory as a living mechanism with socio-cultural functions, one of which is “the ability to absorb social phenomena for further representation in the urban landscape”. “Everything that surrounds us is the result of human interaction with space,” explains Kolomiets in a statement provided by MACK. “Today you can see how the process of myth-making is creating new forms of spontaneous landscape within the city. This has a significant impact on the development of new social norms and mass culture.”

What is the corner looking at? by Yura Kolomiets.
What is the corner looking at? by Yura Kolomiets.

[Architects, Pigeons] by Nina Perlman

[Architects, Pigeons] is a mediation on life in the city and was shot over six years across the cities of Berlin, Leipzig, London, Milan, and New York. The publication, by photographer Nina Perlam, captures mirror-moments between the cities and their inhabitants — from architecture and engineering, to people and pigeons.

[Architects, Pigeons] by Nina Perlman.

Handbook of a Town by Sara Vighi

Reggio Emilia, a city of around 170,000 inhabitants in northern Italy, is famous for its communist past, for being the birthplace of the Italian national flag, and, according to photographer Sara Vighi, for its preschools and food. Following the death of her mother Vighi felt the urge to fully understand the city in which she was born and grew up. The photographer decided to approach this endeavour from a scientific perspective, surveying the metropolis’ cobbled streets, and sampling, dissecting and cataloguing the items she found as though she was writing a handbook, about both the city and her family.

Handbook of a Town by Sara Vighi.
Handbook of a Town by Sara Vighi.

The winner of MACK’s First Book Award will be announced at Photo London at Somerset House on 14 May 2020.

Marigold Warner

Deputy Editor

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Deputy Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Elephant, Gal-dem, The Face, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.