The US photographer’s series Blackwater ties American history to contemporary environmental danger and is on display at the V&A
The winner of the Prix Pictet, the international photography award centring on sustainability, was announced at a ceremony at London’s V&A last night. Sally Mann’s Blackwater (2008–2012) was selected as the overall winner from 12 shortlisted artists following this year’s theme of Fire. All the shortlisted artists’ work will be on display at the V&A until 09 January 2022.
Blackwater links wildfires in the Great Dismal Swamp area of south-east Virginia to another American tragedy; the first slave ships docked in the country at the swamp in 1619. Paralleling the two events, Mann ruminates on “the great fire of racial strife in America”. Born in Lexington, Virginia, Mann began studying photography in the late 1960s, with a focus on the American South, civil war battlefields, and the nature of US history running throughout her career. She further stresses the historical links through her large-format camera and wet-plate collodion technique, a process that dates back to the time of American slavery. “Mann’s series is a brilliant repurposing of a historic photographic process to tell a chilling contemporary story,” explains Sir David King, chairman of the jury and head of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group.
Currently in its ninth iteration, the Prix Pictet has championed photography that draws attention to the climate crisis. Since 2008, over 4700 artists have been nominated for the award. Drawn from a global network of 300 nominators, the shortlist this year includes Rinko Kawauchi, David Uzochukwu, and Lisa Oppenheim. The award comes with a prize of 100,000 Swiss francs (£82,000).
“Fire has hardly been out of the news since the inferno that consumed Notre-Dame in Paris in early 2019,” says Stephen Barber, chair of Prix Pictet. “We have seen record rainforest blazes in the Amazon, forest and bush fires in Australia, and conflagrations in California. Fire destroys and it renews. Fire means survival, renewal, and economic prosperity. Yet our abuse of this most capricious of elements is the source of most of our environmental woes.”
Isaac Huxtable joined the British Journal of Photography in October 2020, where he is currently the Editorial Assistant. Prior to this, he studied a BA in History of Art at the Courtauld Instititue of Art, London.