There were twelve of them. Twelve photographers nominated for the HSBC Photography Prize. This competition aimed at unknown artists rewards winners with the publication of their first monograph by Xavier Barral editions, along with a traveling exhibition, production aid, and the acquisition of six works by HSBC France’s photography collection. This year, the 25th edition gave prizes to two women: Charlotte Mano and Louise Honée, two artists who capture distinct and personal worlds through images filled with nostalgia and introspection.
Born in 1974 in Nijmegen (The Netherlands), Louise Honée takes us on a journey about identity and childhood. The series We Love Where We Live is one of her key projects, carried out between 2017 and 2019 in McDowell County in West Virginia, in the eastern United States. It’s an extensive project of documentary photography about a region surrounded by the Appalachian Mountains, formerly as the Eldorado of coal, where the local economy has since collapsed, causing people to migrate and leaving only dust and ghost towns behind. Some, though, have decided to stay, and the photographer was interested in these families still living in McDowell County, these children and their future. In a pure black and white, Louise Honée recounts their daily life, punctuated by unemployment, drugs and crime. Her photos oscillate between hope and disenchantment. The sign of an abandoned Motel is planted in the middle of a forest like an aborted object. Between two buildings in ruins, children play in trees, go to school. Their faces are glued to the window of the school bus. They dance in the deserted streets, dressed in oversized suits or gym clothes. Louise Honée reflects on their prospects for the future and on the construction of identity, and paints a magnificent portrait of a place where helping one another is essential, and where prospects have evaporated in the Appalachian mist.
The universe of Charlotte Mano echoes that of Louise Honée with questions of identity and the transition from childhood to adulthood. With tenderness and poetry, her Portraire series of portraits is infused with a bluish and misty atmosphere and her photos look like paintings. For her latest project, Thank You Mom, submitted for the contest, the 30-something Gobelins art school graduate asked her mother to pose for her and tell us her story, bringing us a profoundly touching testament to the bond between mother and daughter and a reflection on finitude and memory. When Charlotte Mano learned that her mother was suffering from an incurable disease, she decided to embark on this almost cathartic photographic series. The portraits and the nudes express her visceral desire to suspend time, like a ritual. A very personal project that nevertheless manages to achieve universal resonance.
From childhood to death, these two photographers portray life in all its pain, hopes, disillusions, and love. Two laureates with intimately connected universes.
By Michaël Naulin