Gerard H. Gaskin Wins 2012 CDS/Honickman First Book Prize in PhotographySaturday, February 2nd, 2013 Categories: Reports, Updates
First Book Prize in Photography judge Deborah Willis, renowned curator, historian, and photographer, has chosen Trinidadian/American photographer Gerard H. Gaskin to win the prize for his black-and-white and color photographs that document the African American and Latino house and ballroom community. Gaskin’s work was selected from nearly two hundred entries in the sixth biennial CDS/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography competition, cosponsored by the Center for Documentary Studies and the Honickman Foundation. Offered every other year, the prize is open to American and Canadian photographers of any age who have never published a book-length work and who use their cameras for creative exploration, whether it be of places, people, or communities; of the natural or social world; of beauty at large or the lack of it; of objective or subjective realities. The prize honors work that is visually compelling, that bears witness, and that has integrity of purpose.
Gaskin receives a grant of $3,000, publication of a book of photography, and inclusion in an online exhibition of prizewinners. He will also have a solo exhibition at the Center for Documentary Studies and his photographs will then be placed in the Archive of Documentary Arts in Duke University’s Rubenstein Library. Deborah Willis will write a foreword to the book, Legendary: Inside the House Ballroom Scene, which will be published in November 2013 by Duke University Press in association with CDS Books of the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. This collection of photographs made over a sixteen-year period will be Gaskin’s first book. Willis says that she found Gaskin’s photographs “innovative and spirited,” the images filled with both hope and struggle as “they explore ideas of longing, beauty, and desire. . . . Gaskin’s role is not one of spectator but of interpreter as he enters this safe space of self-creation. In search for beauty, his photographs open our eyes to an extraordinary community of artists who are performing beauty.”
“The balls are a celebration of black and Latino urban gay life and were born in Harlem out of a need for black and Latino gays to have a safe space to express themselves,” writes Gaskin. “Balls are constructed like beauty and talent pageants. The participants work to redefine and critique gender and sexual identity through an extravagant fashion masquerade. Women and men become fluid, interchangeable points of departure and reference, disrupting the notion of a fixed and rigid gender and sexual make-up. All of this happens at night in small halls in cities all over the country. These photographs, taken in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., show us different views of these spaces as they are reflected in the eyes of house and ball members who perform what they wish these cities could be.
Balls have come a long way since their beginnings in Harlem; they have influenced popular culture through dance forms such as vogue and gained attention through documentary films like Paris Is Burning. My images try to show a personal and intimate beauty, pride, dignity, courage, and grace that have been painfully challenged by mainstream society.”
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