The W. Eugene Smith Fund has announced this year’s winners of the Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography, one of the most important photography prizes in the world, to Ukrainian Photographer Maxim Dondyuk for his project Ukraine 2014/22. His series was selected from over 400 entries from 72 countries. Since the Smith Fund’s creation in 1979, it has awarded more than $1.3 million to photographers who work follows in the tradition of late photographer W. Eugene Smith.
The W. Eugene Smith Grant is awarded annually to a photographer whose work and proposed project follows the traditions of W. Eugene Smith’s concerned photography and dedicated compassion as seen in his 45-year career as judged by a jury of experts. The Grant is designed to help a photographer either begin a new photographic project or help to complete an on-going one. This year’s jury was chaired by Michelle Dunn Marsh and included photojournalist Eli Reed and Naveen Kishore, the founder of Seagull Books.
Maxim Dondyuk will be using the award of $40,000 to continue to document Ukraine during its self-affirmation as an independent country with an emphasis on ongoing actions, and outcome, of the present battle between Soviet and European values.
Dondyuk, in summarizing his project, states: “Ukraine 2014/22 is a chronicle of a long-lasting battle of Ukraine for its true independence, national identity, and freedom, which has always been a fragile issue. In the winter of 2013-14, the Ukrainians declared their complete refusal to be a part of the former Soviet empire, which is crumbling to pieces and trying to restore itself through force, blackmail, and political games. Those events become the beginning of the end. For nearly a decade, I’ve documented many aspects of the confrontation between Russia and Ukraine, photographing the conflict from both sides – the Ukrainian Revolution, the annexation of Crimea, beginning of the war in the east of Ukraine.”
The winner of this year’s W. Eugene Smith Fellowship, one of the other grants by the Smith Fund, is American Mary F. Calvert for her work addressing the alarming rates of suicide among Military Sexual Trauma (MST) victims in the United States titled Left Behind: Military Sexual Assault and Suicide.
Calvert uses photography to try and affect social change by working to document social justice issues neglected by the media at large. She believes that journalists have a duty to shine a light into the deepest recesses of the human experience and provide a mirror for society to examine itself. For the past 9 years she has been focusing on the sexual abuse of women and men in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Left Behind: Military Sexual Assault and Suicide addresses the alarmingly high rates of suicide among MST victims in the U.S. Since 2001, over 30,000 U.S. service members have died by suicide, a number that is four times more than those who died in combat. Service members who have suffered MST have a 65% higher risk of suicide ideation and suicide plans than those who have not.
“With the implosion of the newspaper industry and budgets for investigative journalism disappearing, it has become nearly impossible to get this kind of complex issue covered,” Calvert says of winning the award. “It is extremely gratifying that this fine organization continues to support photographers in their quest to tell these neglected stories about those with little voice.”
This year, thanks to increased support from The Phillip and Edith Leonian Foundation, a longtime supporter of the Eugene Smith Fund, the fellowship grant was raised from $5000.00 to $10,000.00. The support has also allowed the two Finalist grants to be increased from $2500.00 to $5000.00.
The finalist grants were awarded to Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiva for their work in Kashmir and Ta Mwe for work in Myanmar (Burma) whose projects were deemed “exceptional and worth of recognition” by the jury.
Ta Mwe’s work documents the situation in Myanmar since a military coup seized power on February 1, 2021. The coup shattered a decade of political and social development in one fell swoop. Protests quickly began, and grew quickly, but the military junta quickly turned to the use of deadly force and mass incarcerations to suppress them. Many young Burmese fled to the jungles outside of the urban areas, and joined the People’s Defense Force (PDF), which is the military wing of the National Unity Government, a body of democratically elected legislators and officials that is widely accepted by the civilian populace to be the legitimate government of Myanmar. Now, training with the various ethnic populations that have been fighting for decades against previous governments, they are now in the perfect training grounds to become the next generation of freedom fighters in Myanmar.
Alongside the two main grants of the Smith Fund, the W. Eugene Smith Student Grant was awarded to Taniya Sarkar of India for her project Nothing Left to Call Home. This body of work is a visual research project which works to unearth women’s narratives on the complex communal events since India’s partition and independence.
Sarkar states: “In this work, memory is a form of resistance that will always be relevant as long as institutions attempt to marginalize certain histories and legitimize misdeeds. »
In 1996 the W. Eugene Smith memorial Fund established the Howard Chapnick Grant, which works to encourage and support leadership in fields ancillary to photojournalism and documentary photography. This includes editing, research, education and management. The award is for $10,000.00. This years’ award was presented to Seydou Camara from Mali for his ongoing educational project for visual and citizen culture in Mali.
“Seydou Camara’s vigor to make visual culture possible and link it to citizen culture, is of critical importance for those who otherwise would not have access to these important discussions and ability to express themselves through photography,” explained John Fleetwood, Smith Fund board member and chair of this year’s jury. “We hope that this grant will encourage him and the many other great applicants to continue their important work, and their ability to inspire others.”
Upon receiving word that he was awarded the Smith Grant, Maxim Dondyuk said: “It’s a great honor to become a part of the history of this grant and a huge responsibility! There are times when I experience hopelessness trying to be heard, to find a way to spread the information or to find funding for projects, and sometimes you wanna leave everything and go away, but something deep inside won’t let you do this, it tells you that you need to go forward. I’m thankful to the organizers of the W. Eugene Smith Grant and to the judges for highlighting my work. You gave me hope that there are people who try to help such authors like me and that our work matters. What you give isn’t just money, it’s hope, it’s voice! Thank you.”
More information about the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund can be found on their website.