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US photographer Sally Mann wins 2021 Prix Pictet for series on wildfires

An extract from one of Sally Mann’s series, Blackwater 2008- 012 Show caption Blackwater 13, an extract from Sally Mann’s 2008-12 series exploring the devastating wildfires in the Great Dismal Swamp, south-eastern Virginia. Photograph: Peter K Philbin/© Sally Mann, Gagosian, Prix Pictet
Photography

Artist beats 11 others on shortlist for global sustainability prize in ceremony at London’s VA

The US artist Sally Mann has won the 2021 Prix Pictet prize, the global award in photography and sustainability.

The announcement was made on Wednesday in a ceremony at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London for the opening of an exhibition of the 12 shortlisted artists.

The theme of the ninth Prix Pictet was fire. Mann, whose work explores family, social realities and the passage of time, receives a cash prize of 100,000 Swiss francs (£82,000).

Dark swamp reflections Blackwater 15. Photograph: Peter K Philbin/© Sally Mann, Gagosian, Prix Pictet

Her winning series, Blackwater (2008-2012), explores the devastating wildfires that enveloped the Great Dismal Swamp in south-eastern Virginia, where the first slave ships docked in America.

She draws a parallel between the wildfires there and racial conflict in America, explaining:the US. “The fires in the Great Dismal Swamp seemed to epitomise 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,” she says.

Born in Lexington, Virginia, Mann began studying photography in 1960. She is a Guggenheim fellow, three-time recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and was named “America’s best photographer” by Time magazine in 2001.

Her recent survey exhibition, A Thousand Crossings, explored the identity of the American south and her own relationship with her place of origin.

Sir David King, chair of the Prix Pictet 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.”

Blackwater 9. Photograph: Peter K Philbin/© Sally Mann, Gagosian, Prix Pictet

The Prix Pictet was founded by the Pictet Group in 2008 and is recognised as the world’s leading prize for photography. A new theme approximately every 18 months aims to promote discussion and debate on critical issues of sustainability.

Shortlisted photographers this year included Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige for their project Wonder Beirut, based on a series of postcards from the 1960s and 70s which are still on sale in Lebanese bookshops today, and Rinko Kawauchi, who photographed fireworks every summer for four years for her series Hanabi.

The eight previous winners are Benoit Aquin (water), Nadav Kander (Earth), Mitch Epstein (growth), Luc Delahaye (power), Michael Schmidt (consumption), Valérie Belin (disorder), Richard Mosse (space) and Joana Choumali (hope).

The VA’s free exhibition of the shortlisted photographers ends on 9 January 2022.

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