American artist Sally Mann has been announced as the winner of the ninth cycle of the Prix Pictet, the global award in photography and sustainability. The winner receives a cash prize of 100,000 Swiss Francs (£82,000, 109,000 USD).

The announcement, which took place at a ceremony at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London, marks the opening of a major exhibition showcasing the 12 photographic series shortlisted for the prize. Each of the shortlisted bodies of work explores the topical theme of Fire, the focus of this cycle of the award.

Blackwater 1 2008 - 2012

Blackwater 1 2008 – 2012, From the series Blackwater, 2008–12, Tintype, Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian

Sally Mann (b. 1951) is known for her photographs of intimate and familiar subjects rendered both sublime and disquieting. Her works explore family, social realities and the passage of time, capturing tensions between nature, history, and memory.

Mann’s winning series Blackwater (2008-2012) is a multifaceted exploration of the devastating wildfires that enveloped the Great Dismal Swamp in southeastern Virginia, where the first slave ships docked in America. In this work, Mann draws a parallel between the all-consuming wildfires she encountered there with racial conflict in America, explaining “The fires in the Great Dismal Swamp seemed to epitomize the great fire of racial strife in America – the Civil War, emancipation, the Civil Rights Movement, in which my family was involved, the racial unrest of the late 1960s and most recently the summer of 2020. Something about the deeply flawed American character seems to embrace the apocalyptic as solution.”

sally mann Blackwater 20 2008 – 2012

Blackwater 20 2008 – 2012, From the series Blackwater, 2008–12, Tintype, Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian

Born in Lexington, Virginia, Mann began studying photography in the late 1960s. Her first solo museum exhibition was at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, in 1977. From the late 1990s into the 2000s, Mann focused on the American South, taking photographs in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana for her series Deep South (2005), as well as Civil War battlefields for Last Measure (2000).

A Thousand Crossings, Mann’s recent survey exhibition, explores the identity of the American South and Mann’s relationship with her place of origin. It debuted at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC in 2018 and travelled extensively. Mann is a Guggenheim fellow, three-time recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and was named “America’s Best Photographer” by TIME magazine in 2001.

Blackwater 7 2008 – 2012

Blackwater 7 2008 – 2012, From the series Blackwater, 2008–12, Tintype, Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian

In a statement issued today on behalf of the Prix Pictet Jury, Sir David King, Chairman of the Jury, said: “If ever there was a time for the Prix Pictet to take up the theme of Fire, that time is now. This past summer we were inundated with images of fire at its most frighteningly destructive… Of course, fire is a most capricious element, and its various faces were present in the group of shortlisted series.

The jury considered an exceptional group of artists, each of whom demonstrated a highly distinctive approach to the theme, at times challenging our understanding of what photography can be. Sally Mann’s series in particular is a brilliant repurposing of historic photographic process to tell a chilling contemporary story. At the end of a rich debate the jury were unanimous in their decision that she was a worthy winner of the 9th Prix Pictet.”

sally mann tintype Blackwater 9 2008 – 2012

Blackwater 9 2008 – 2012, From the series Blackwater, 2008–12, Tintype, Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian

The free exhibition at the V&A of the work of the shortlisted photographers, listed below, is on show until 9 January 2022.

Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige (Lebanon)

Rinko Kawauchi (Japan)

Sally Mann (USA)

Christian Marclay (USA/ Switzerland)

Fabrice Monteiro (Belgium/Benin)

Lisa Oppenheim (USA)

Mak Remissa (Cambodia)

Carla Rippey (Mexico)

Mark Ruwedel (USA)

Brent Stirton (South Africa)

David Uzochukwu (Austria/Nigeria)

Daisuke Yokota (Japan)

The Prix Pictet was founded by the Pictet Group in 2008. Today, the award is recognised as the world’s leading prize for photography. On an approximately 18-month cycle, each theme aims to promote discussion and debate on critical issues of sustainability. The prize of 100,000 Swiss Francs is awarded for a body of work that speaks most powerfully to the theme of the award.

Each cycle of the Prix Pictet tours globally, with exhibitions in over a dozen locations, bringing the work of the shortlisted photographers to a wide international audience. The Prix Pictet award is accompanied by a full-colour book published by teNeues, covering in detail the work of the shortlisted photographers, together with selected images from the wider group of nominees, and essays on the theme of the prize by leading thinkers and writers.

sally mann Blackwater 18 2008 - 2012

Blackwater 18 2008 – 2012, From the series Blackwater, 2008–12, Tintype, Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian

The eight previous Prix Pictet winners are Benoit Aquin (Water), Nadav Kander (Earth), Mitch Epstein (Growth), Luc Delahaye (Power), Michael Schmidt (Consumption), Valérie Belin (Disorder), Richard Mosse (Space) and Joana Choumali (Hope).

The third series of the Prix Pictet podcast A Lens on Sustainability, released today, brings together global creators, thinkers and photographers to discuss photography and sustainability. Collaborators and guest speakers include Don McCullin, Hannah Starkey, Sebastião Salgado and Taryn Simon. The podcast is available via Spotify, Apple and the Prix Pictet website.

Prix Pictet: Fire, V&A

Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL

16 December 2021 – 9 January 2022

Admission free

(Featured image: Sally Mann, Blackwater 32 2008 – 2012, from the series Blackwater, 2008–12, Tintype, courtesy of the artist and Gagosian)

Further reading

Prix Pictet: new photography exhibition to open at the V&A

Colossal camera creates ‘largest tintypes in the world’ for Photo London