Newsha Tavakolian, the Tehran-based photojournalist who won the 2014 Carmignac Gestion Photojournalism Award, announced last week that she will return the 50,000 Euro prize, due to “irreconcilable differences over the presentation of my work.” Tavakolian claims Edouard Carmignac, head of the Carmignac Gestion investment bank which funds the Carmignac Foundation and the photojournalism prize, edited her work and changed its title “in ways that were simply not acceptable to me.” In a statement sent to PDN, a spokesperson for the Carmignac Foundation claims the organization has “postponed” planned exhibitions and the publication of Tavakolian’s work to protect the photographer and her family from threats from the Iranian government.
Created in 2009, the Carmignac Gestion photojournalism award “aims to support photojournalists who find themselves working on the front line of different situations.” Selected by a jury of photographers, curators and editors, the prize winner receives 50,000 Euros to complete a project, exhibitions in Paris and elsewhere, and the publication of a book. Previous winners of the Carmignac Gestion prize have included Kai Wiedenhoefer and Davide Monteleone. Tavakolian is the first woman awarded the prize.
Though Tavakolian was selected the 2014 winner in November of last year, her identity was kept confidential due to security concerns while she worked on her project in Iran, according to the Carmignac Foundation. She delivered images to the Foundation in July; her win was announced that month at the Recontres D’Arles photo festival.
On September 11, Tavakolian posted on her Facebook page a statement saying that she was returning the money because of disagreements with Edouard Carmignac.
“Unfortunately…from the moment I delivered the work, Mr. Carmignac insisted on personally editing my photographs as well as altering the accompanying texts to the photographs. Mr. Carmignac’s interference in the project culminated in choosing an entirely unacceptable title for my work that would undermine my project irredeemably.” Tavakolian says she titled the project, which depicts everyday life in Iran, “Blank Pages of an Iranian Photo Album,” but in announcing the prize, the Carmignac Foundation called it “The Lost Generation,” a title Tavakolian calls “overused and loaded” and “unnecessarily controversial.” She said in her Facebook statement that in her emails to Carmignac, “I tried to convince him that as the creator of this project, I am entitled to my artistic freedom. Whilst I absolutely welcome other points of view, I cannot accept that anyone other than myself should have the final say about my work. But at no point would he accept this as my right.”
Tavakolian told PDN on she had contacted the Foundation to arrange the transfer of funds to their account.
A spokesperson sent PDN a statement from the Carmignac Foundation that says Tavakolian had changed the project she had originally proposed to the jury. According to the foundation, Tavakolian “notified the Foundation of specific and significant risks posed to her own safety, and that of her family, and expressed her intention to tone down and shift the focus of her proposed ‘Burnt Generation’ project that had been selected by the Jury.
“Under these circumstances, the Foundation made the difficult decision to postpone the project rather than accept such a change, which it felt would have distorted the Award’s mission without necessarily guaranteeing the safety of its winner.”
Tavakolian told PDN via email, “The reaction from the Carmignac Foundation is a clear manipulation of the truth.” She considers the mention of safety issues “a threat” from Carmignac, she says.
“The issue at hand here is my right for artistic freedom and Mr. Carmignac’s misplaced ambition to edit, alter, and change my project, including the title to his own liking. I do not need Mr. Carmignac’s ‘protection’ as he prefers to call this drama. I have been working in Iran for 15 years and have faced many problems, but solved them myself and managed to tell the story. What [I] need from him is simple: my artistic freedom and the right to have the final say over my own project.”
Though one of Tavokolian’s images remains on the Carmignac Foundation website, exhibitions of her work have been canceled, the Foundation statement says.
Davide Monteleone, last year’s winner, served on the jury that selected Tavakolian for the 2014 prize. He says when he turned in the project on Chechnya he shot with the Carmignac Gestion prize, he worked only with artistic director Nathalie Gallon. “I had no interference from Mr. Carmignac.” Monteleone says his book and exhibition “are exactly the way I wanted them to be. I think for such a prize, this is the only way it should be.”
The Carmignac Foundation is continuing with plans to offer the prize in 2015, this time supporting works on the theme of “lawless areas in France.”