Awards & Competitions

Justyna Mielnikiewicz Wins $30,000 2016 W. Eugene Smith Grant

October 13, 2016

Photojournalist Justyna Mielnikiewicz has won the 2016 W. Eugene Smith Grant in humanistic photography for her ongoing project about Russia’s influence over neighboring countries, the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund announced today. The $30,000 grant was presented to Mielnikiewicz during the foundation’s 37th annual awards ceremony at the SVA Theater in New York City.

Since 2001, Mielnikiewicz—who is Polish born and now a citizen of Georgia—has been photographing the regional tensions around Russia for her project, A Diverging Frontier: Russia and its Neighbors. Since the fall of the Soviet Union 25 years ago, countries such as Ukraine and Georgia have struggled to find their own identities and become independent. Mielnikiewicz’s project studies Russia’s sphere of influence over these regions, and puts a particular focus on the human toll since Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea and its campaign in Ukraine.

“Her photographs offer a personal look at life on the edge, both literally and figuratively, and the struggles nations are facing to find their own identity and break free from Russian influence,” says Whitney Johnson, Deputy Director of Photography at National Geographic, Smith Fund Board member and this year’s judging committee chair.

Caracas - Venezuela. Walkers pass by a mural painted by a social collective, supporters of the government, calling for peace. In recent years the explosion of violence has fractured the relations inside Venezuelan society and, together with political and economic crisis, have made the daily life of inhabitants a constant moment of confrontation.

Pedestrians pass by a mural painted by a social collective, supporters of the government, calling for peace in Venezuela. Photo © Oscar B. Castillo

A $5,000 fellowship was also given to Oscar B. Castillo for his long-term project Our War, Our Pain. The Debacle of a Dream. The project explores the causes and consequences of violence in Venezuela and the country’s attempts to confront deep political turmoil. According to Johnson, Castillo’s project presents the situation in “a way that is both truthful and compassionate.”

The Howard Chapnick Grant, also administered by the Smith Fund, was presented to visual documentary producer Liza Faktor  for Practicing Transmedia in Photojournalism, a study of cross platform (transmedia) approaches to visual journalism. In her work, Faktor maps production and distribution opportunities outside of the traditional photography and editorial market—film, books, art, interactive, broadcasting, performance, public spaces—to help photojournalists tell and sustain in-depth stories across platforms.

Besides Johnson, other jurors for the 2016 Smith Fund awards were Kristen Lubben, Magnum Foundation Executive Director, and Lekgetho Makola, Director of Market Photo Workshops in South Africa. They selected this year’s winners from hundreds of submissions from 40 countries, according to the Smith Fund.

Read More:

Matt Black Wins $30,000 2016 W. Eugene Smith Grant

Justyna Mielnikiewicz Wins $20,000 2015 Aftermath Grant

Magnum Foundation Awards Oscar B. Castillo Emergency Fund Grant 

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