‘Political, poignant and timely’: V&A Parasol Foundation’s award-winning women photographers

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Mother Land, 2022. © Anya Tsaruk.

Fiona Rogers and Vivienne Gamble discuss the inaugural Parasol Foundation International Photography Prize for Women – and why women-focused initiatives are still needed

“We had lots of different discussions about what the prize could be,” says Fiona Rogers, Parasol Foundation curator of women in photography at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A). “Did we want it to be something that was aimed at legacy artists? Did we want it to be well known artists? Or did we want to do something that was an open call to everyone?”

Rogers and her collaborators landed on the final option and, in late 2022, launched the inaugural Parasol Foundation International Photography Prize for Women. The award attracted over 1,400 submissions from across the world, each responding to the theme of Agents of Change – a celebration of photography’s role in affecting and documenting transformation, revolution and innovation.

The work of this year’s winners – Anya Tsaruk, Vân-Nhi Nguyễn, Gohar Dashti, Priyadarshini Ravichandran and Cynthia MaiWa Sitei – will soon go on show at south London’s Peckham 24 festival. Rogers hopes that the display will raise awareness of the photographers’ work and, via a financial bursary and programme of networking events, create increased access to the industry.

Untitled, from the series Home, 2017. © Gohar Dashti.

“If you look at museum statistics, there’s still space to improve on the representation of women – it’s as simple as that”

“Obviously we wanted a really geographical spread, but we also wanted a really diverse range of approaches to photography, to highlight people that are pushing the boundaries,” she explains. “There’s a really nice cross section of different disciplines, different ages, different levels of experiences, and that’s what we really hoped to see.”

The opportunities offered to each of the winning photographers will become the latest contribution to a growing grassroots movement, which increasingly demands improved visibility for women in photography. While these community initiatives are now popular, Rogers acknowledges that when it comes to larger institutions and the art market more broadly, there is still a great deal of work to be done. 

“Gender might feel like a kind of reductive conversation now,” she says. “But if you look at museum statistics, there’s still space to improve on the representation of women – it’s as simple as that.” The curator points here to the V&A’s own collection, where she says as little as 15 per cent of works were created by women.

Untitled, 2023. © Vân-Nhi Nguyễn.
Earl, Three Cliffs Bay, Swansea. spear of a nation, 2021. © Cynthia MaiWa Sitei.

It is, Rogers continues, important to her that the prize addresses this disparity, but also that it offers a strong focus on intersectionality. She and her fellow jurors – Lesley A. Martin, creative director of Aperture, photographer and curator Ronan Mckenzie, Turner nominated multi-media artist Ingrid Pollard and co-founder of Peckham 24, Vivienne Gamble – were therefore pleased to receive a high number of submissions which drew on each photographer’s lived experiences. 

“These artists are using their lived experience to make a broader comment about conflict in Ukraine or what’s happening in Iran,” Rogers says. “There’s ideas of migration and displacement which are reflective of our current times. I’m really pleased that overall the work is quite political – it’s poignant and it’s timely.”

Surge, 2019. © Priyadarshini Ravichandran.
Surge, 2019. © Priyadarshini Ravichandran.

Gamble echoes Rogers sentiments. “From the very beginning, Peckham 24 was always about shining a light on new talent,” she explains. “That’s always been part of what we have been trying to do – to support that really important part of a career where you need a platform, and the work needs an audience.” Combined with the festival’s commitment to diversity, Gamble says that displaying the award-winners’ work – and supporting them to attend the festival – was a natural fit.

Gamble also highlights the importance of the timing of the winners’ visit to Peckham 24 – taking place during the same weekend as Photo London, each photographer will have the opportunity to take part in a panel during the fair. “There’s a lot happening around them and around their projects to help get people to know them and to understand their work,” Gamble says. “I think it’s really brilliant that this is all happening as part of this one big moment in London’s photography calendar.”

Untitled, from the series Home, 2017. © Gohar Dashti.

Peckham 24 is at Copeland Park and Bussey Building, London from 12 to 14 May