Photographer Sally Mann has been announced the winner of the ninth cycle of the Prix Pictet, the global award in photography and sustainability, on the theme of ‘Fire’.
For her series Blackwater, Mann explored the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia, a dangerous terrain slithering with snakes, predators, insects and heavy foliage, that many escaped slaves travelled through towards freedom. Mann documented the vast fires and thick smoke that consumed the swap during her visit and which seemed to epitomise the great fire of racial strife in America.
The announcement was made at a ceremony at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London on Wednesday 15 December 2021, marking the opening of a major exhibition showcasing the twelve series of powerful photographs shortlisted for the prize. The shortlisted bodies of work all explore the topical theme of ‘Fire’, which has been the focus of this cycle of the award.
Sally Mann (b. 1951) is known for her photographs of intimate and familiar subjects rendered both sublime and disquieting. Her works explore family, social realities and the passage of time, capturing tensions between nature, history, and memory.
Mann’s winning series Blackwater (2008-2012) is a multifaceted exploration of the devastating wildfires that enveloped the Great Dismal Swamp in southeastern Virginia, where the first slave ships docked in America. In this work, Mann draws a parallel between the all-consuming wildfires she encountered there with racial conflict in America, explaining “the fires in the Great Dismal Swamp seemed to epitomize the great fire of racial strife in America – the Civil War, emancipation, the Civil Rights Movement, in which my family was involved, the racial unrest of the late 1960s and most recently the summer of 2020. Something about the deeply flawed American character seems to embrace the apocalyptic as solution.”
In a statement issued today on behalf of the Prix Pictet Jury, Sir David King, Chairman of the Jury, said: “If ever there was a time for the Prix Pictet to take up the theme of Fire, that time is now. This past summer we were inundated with images of fire at its most frighteningly destructive… Of course, fire is a most capricious element, and its various faces were present in the group of shortlisted series. The jury considered an exceptional group of artists, each of whom demonstrated a highly distinctive approach to the theme, at times challenging our understanding of what photography can be. Sally Mann’s series in particular is a brilliant repurposing of historic photographic process to tell a chilling contemporary story.
At the end of a rich debate, the jury were unanimous in their decision that she was a worthy winner of the 9th Prix Pictet.”
The free exhibition at the V&A of the work of the shortlisted photographers, listed below, is on show until 9 January 2022.
Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige (Lebanon)
Rinko Kawauchi (Japan)
Sally Mann (USA)
Christian Marclay (USA/ Switzerland)
Fabrice Monteiro (Belgium/Benin)
Lisa Oppenheim (USA)
Mak Remissa (Cambodia)
Carla Rippey (Mexico)
Mark Ruwedel (USA)
Brent Stirton (South Africa)
David Uzochukwu (Austria/Nigeria)
Daisuke Yokota (Japan)