New Prize Honors Urgent Environmental Photography

The Prix Pictet is a heck of a photography prize. In its first year, the award promises a purse of 100,000 Swiss francs to the winner, and for all shortlisted photographers, an exhibition at the Palais de Toyko in Paris. The prize is for work that communicates urgent messages about sustainability, what the Prix Pictet website calls “perhaps the greatest single issue of the twenty-first century.” Indeed.

Over here at the Palais de Utne in Minneapolis, we weren’t surprised at all to see two of our favorite environmentally conscious photographers make the cut. Chris Jordan and David Maisel were shortlisted for the prize last Friday, with 16 other photographers, selected from a field of more than 200 nominated artists hailing from 43 countries.

Jordan is a Seattle-based photographer and artist whose series, “Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait,” we featured in our Sept.-Oct. 2007 issue. In that series, Jordan makes numbing statistics visible, shrinking an emblematic image and reproducing it thousands, even hundreds of thousands of times. (Stretched across a 60 by 80 inch panel, for example,1.14 million tiny folded paper bags represent the number used in the United States every hour.) The work that earned him a spot on the Prix Pictet shortlist is his book In Katrina’s Wake: Potraits of Loss from an Unnatural Disaster(Princeton Architectural Press, 2006). The inaugural Prix Pictet theme is water.

Maisel landed his shortlist position with pieces from “The Lake Project” and “Terminal Mirage,” part of his “Black Maps” series–surreal aerial photography of environmentally impacted landscapes. Utne‘s readers will recognize one of his nominated photographs; Terminal Mirage 19 ran on the back page of our May-June 2006 issue. Later that same year, we did a story about Maisel’s evocative “Library of Dust” project, photographs of urns housing the unclaimed cremains of patients of the Oregon State Insane Asylum. The decaying copper canisters bloomed with otherworldly color.

The winner of the Prix Pictet, sponsored by Swiss bank Pictet & Cie in association with the Financial Times, will be announced on October 30, 2008.

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