The 28th Annual International Center of Photography Infinity Awards, held May 2 in New York City, paid tribute to its departing director, ICP director Willis E. “Buzz” Hartshorn, who last year announced he wanted to step down for medical reasons. Though Hartshorn will continue to work with ICP, this was his last Infinity Awards as director, a role he has held since 1994, when he took over from ICP founder Cornell Capa.
The crowd gave a standing ovation to Hartshorn, who oversaw the expansion of both the ICP museum’s exhibition space and its photography school and the creation of the ICP Triennial exhibition. In accepting a special Infinity Award last night, Hartshorn said that in the 30 years he’s been associated with ICP, its mission has evolved from promoting the appreciation of photography to exploring “how pictures create meaning.” He thanked the ICP board for creating a new advisory position for him within the institution. He also expressed gratitude to ICP founder Cornell Capa for his leadership and encouragement. Looking first toward the heavens and then, after a pause, downwards, Hartshorn said, “Cornell, thank you for giving me this opportunity.”
Photographer Daido Moriyama won the Lifetime Achievement Award. A video that preceded the presentation showed Moriyama capturing his black-and-white, expressionistic images, shooting on the streets of Tokyo with a small pocket camera, sometimes from the hip or without looking through the viewfinder. Moriyama took his iconic photo “Stray Dog” while in his 20s, but for a time he abandoned photography, frustrated that his work was only copying. After falling into a period of drug use, he by chance found and bought a used Pentax and then returned to making art.
In accepting his award, Moriyama said, through a translator, “My life in photography has been one long road over a hill.” He said he was honored to receive his award from the ICP in New York, “my favorite city in the world.”
Chinese dissident and artist Ai Weiwei, who won the Cornell Capa Award, was not in attendance to accept the award in person. A producer of a new documentary about the artist and his provocative work, “Ai Weiwei Never Sorry,” accepted the award on the artist’s behalf, explaining that Ai Weiwei, who was imprisoned for 81 days last year, is still unable to leave China.
Other awards were given to photographers who present their work in a variety of formats and media.
Stan Douglas, who photographs and films elaborate productions recreating historical events and scenes borrowed from literature, won the award for Art. Anouk Kruithof, winner of the Young Photographer award, has made installations and numerous photo books and magazines, often in collaboration with her subjects. Recently, she explained, she found a young man in Brooklyn who has never taken a photo and has no camera, computer or MP3 player. She has asked him to curate a presentation of Kruithof’s images, and she says his selections and comments are “so fresh and exciting.”
Benjamin Lowy won the award for Photojournalism for his photos of Iraq, taken through the tiny window of the Bradley armored vehicles in which he traveled, and his coverage of the civil war in Libya, shot on an iPhone. He told the audience that the Iraq pictures, published last year as Iraq|Perspectives after it won the Honickman First Book prize, were inspired by his mother, who told him his images from Iraq showed only gun battles, so she had no idea what daily life there is like. (When his bag was lost in transit, she suggested he get new pants “at the mall.”) About his use of an iPhone, Lowy said that “John Q. Public doesn’t want to see another photo of violence.” He said he chose to use a tool people use “ to take picures of their dogs or kids” because he hoped to make the distant conflict seem closer to home, “and not just because it looks really cool.”
The winners for Applied Photography, Maurice Scheltens and Liesbeth Abbenes, who have been commissioned to create abstract still lifes for editorial and fashion clients, said in their video introduction, “We don’t want to be called artists or commercial photographers.” Speaking to the audience, they said that they like “to stretch expectations of what still life can be.”
The Publication prize went to The Worker-Photography Movement 1926–1939, a catalogue of an exhibition at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid. David Campany won the Writing award for his book Jeff Wall: Picture for Women (published by Afterall), an in-depth examination of a single photo by photographer Jeff Wall and its echoes of earlier images by Lee Friedlander, Manuel Alvarez Bravo and others. Campany calls the photo—which show a woman looking at the viewer, a man looking at the woman and a camera on a tripod between the two of them— “a perverse image in many ways. I still feel awkward when I’m around it.”
The 2012 winners were selected by a committee made up of Jennifer Blessing, Senior Curator, Photography, Guggenheim Museum in New York; Sophie Hackett, Assistant Curator of Photography, Art Gallery, Ontario, Canada; and Michael Mack, publisher, MACK, London. They selected the award winners from among nominees submitted by curators, academics and editors in nine countries.
The Trustee Award was given to John “Lonny” Steffens, founder of Spring Mountain Capital and a long-time photography collector whose gifts to ICP have included one of Robert Capa’s images from the D-Day landing. In his acceptance speech, Steffens called the ICP museum “one of the jewels” of New York City.
The annual Infinity Awards are ICP’s largest fundraiser, with ticket sales supporting exhibitions, education programs and community outreach. Several past winners of Infinity Awards attended the gala, including photographers Eugene Richards, Susan Meiselas, Peter Van Agtmael and Elinor Carucci, writer Vincent Aletti and writer and publisher Chris Boot, now executive director of the Aperture Foundation.
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