September 9th, 2015

Newsha Tavakolian Wins €100K Cultural Prize; Pledges to €45K to Help Refugees, Charities in Iran

Photographer Newsha Tavakolian. ©Frank van Beek

Photographer Newsha Tavakolian. ©Frank van Beek

Iranian photographer Newsha Tavakolian has been named winner of the 2015 Principal Prince Claus Award, the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development announced last week in Amsterdam. She will receive a 100,000 Euro prize, and she has already pledged to donate nearly half of her prize money to charity, including an aid organization for Iraqi and Syrian refugees.

In announcing the award, Prince Claus Fund organizers described Tavakolian as “a trailblazing artist and photojournalist whose work offers a compelling insider’s perspective on contemporary life in Iran and the Middle East…she fuses artistic work and documentary reportage to create intimate portraits and unexpected human stories that enable us to look deeply inside societies. ” Tavakolian will receive the prize December 2 at a ceremony at the Royal Palace in Amsterdam.

Ten other individuals and organizations will also receive awards. But Tavakolian was named the winner of the Prince Claus Fund’s top award “for her beautiful and moving testimony of the complexities and ambiguities of contemporary Iran” as well as for her courage, critical insight, support for young photographers, and her commitment to women’s voices, organizers said.

In addition to the prize money, Tavakolian’s award includes an exhibition of her work at The Prince Claus Fund Gallery in Amsterdam from November 27 to March 4, 2016.

“Unfortunately it is hard for me to enjoy this prize as much as I would like to, seeing the region where I work and live in flames and tens of thousands seeking refuge in faraway lands,” the photographer said on her Facebook page, after the award was announced.

She went on to say she would donate 15,000 Euros to an organization that supports Syrian and Iraqi refugees. “[I] want to give back [for] all the kindness Iraqi’s and Syrians always welcomed me with, despite the dire circumstances they live in,” she wrote on Facebook.

Tavakolian pledged another 13,000 Euros to an independent photography prize in Iran that supports young photographers; 10,000 Euros to an Iranian charity that helps children with cancer; and 7,000 Euros to several organizations in Iran that protect animals.

The Prince Claus Awards  were established 19 years ago to honor outstanding achievements in the field of culture and development. They are awarded annually to individuals and groups who have had a positive impact on the development of their societies, according to the Prince Claus Fund web site.

Among other winners of 2015 Prince Claus Awards was photographer Latif Al-Ani, who documented life in Iraq from the 1950s to the 1970s. The other winners included artists, journalists, and arts collectives.

This year, the fund invited 250 people to submit nominations for the awards. Winners were selected from 103 nominations. Jurors included filmmaker and journalist Bregtje van der Haak (Netherlands); architect and writer Suad Amiry (Palestine); art historian Salah Hassan (Sudan); writer Kettly Mars (Haiti); theater producer and director Ong Keng Sen (Singapore); and independent curator Gabriela Salgado (Argentina).

September 17th, 2014

The 50,000 Euro Controversy Over Artistic Freedom and the Carmignac Gestion Prize

carmignac-pageNewsha 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.”

January 13th, 2014

Danny Lyon Criticizes Media; Says How He Would Edit National Geographic Magazine

Photojournalist Danny Lyon delivered a sharp critique of the media, explained the main goal of his career, and reminisced about his work on the civil rights movement, motorcycle gangs and Texas prisoners at a rare public appearance last week.

Lyon was the headliner at the 2014 National Geographic Photography Seminar, a day-long event held January 9 before a standing-room-only crowd at the National Geographic offices in Washington, DC.

“I took it for granted that all the magazines lied, and since I chose the media as my field I was determined to create an American media that was truthful,” Lyon said during his talk.

He also imagined himself as editor of National Geographic, and suggested story ideas that would probably rile the magazine’s audience (read on for details).

In addition to Lyon, photographers Tyler Hicks, Wayne Lawrence, David Maisel, Newsha Tavakolian, and Vince Musi lectured about their careers and past projects. Media artist Hasan Elahi also gave a talk about his surveillance project.

Following is an edited transcript of Lyon’s talk.