Artist who ‘reclaims black experience’ wins Deutsche Börse photography prize | Deutsche Börse Photography Award

An artist whose staged portraits reflect the language of the family photo album has won one of the most prestigious awards in photography.

Deana Lawson of Rochester, New York, was awarded the £30,000 Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2022 at the Photographers’ Gallery in London for her solo exhibition Centropy, held two years ago at Kunsthalle Basel.

Brett Rogers, director of the Photographers’ Gallery and chairman of the jury at Deutsche Börse, praised Lawson’s inventiveness and the complexity of her approach to image making.

“Reframing and reclaiming the black experience, her work makes use of the traditional and the experimental, opening a very unique connection between the mundane and the mystical,” she said.

“Her subject is somewhere between the ‘here and now’ and the past, a person and a people, the staged and the naturalistic, in a way that is not didactic or problem-oriented, but really radical. The boldness of her vision and the powerful sensibility she brings to her protagonists is clearly the result of a carefully nuanced collaboration with her cast of ‘relatives’, placing her in a rare position of partner or narrator rather than author.”

An Ode to Yemaya, 2019
An Ode to Yemaya, 2019. Photo: Deana Lawson

Lawson is known for her intimate staged portraits that explore intergenerational relationships and their effects within black culture. They reflect tropes from documentary photography and art history, as well as the language of the family photo album.

She often positions women as central protagonists, in addition to the presence of elders, male totem figures and symbolic archetypal characters, such as the heavenly child. The images show familiar domestic environments, but contain a disturbing element – what the artist calls portals to other worlds, or images of death or birth.

Visitors are introduced to what Lawson calls her “ever-growing mythological family.”

Anne-Marie Beckmann, the director of the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation, said that while Lawson was rooted in the traditions of photography and quite classical in many ways, her images opened up new possibilities for the medium and its reception.

“She questions the position of the black body in visual culture and plays with tropes such as family portraits, artifice and nature, taking the personal and making it political, forcing an often disturbing contemplation about how and what we see.”

The presentation at The Photographers’ Gallery marks Lawson’s first institutional exhibition in the UK. The jury also recognized the work of the other nominated artists – Anastasia Samoylova, Gilles Peress and Jo Ractliffe.

Leave a Comment