Remote judging drives robust conversations

Like everything else in 2020, judging for the Alexia Grants competition was affected by the coronavirus pandemic and forced to go remote, with judges signing on from various locations.

Judges Joshua Rashaad McFadden and Laylah Amatullah Barrayn took a brief break from grueling election coverage to review entries—McFadden from his Minneapolis hotel room and Barrayn from her New York apartment. Judge Noelle Flores Théard joined from her Brooklyn apartment, her patient six-year-old daughter waiting in the background.

But the physical distance did not hamper the dynamism of the event, according to Mike Davis, director of The Alexia.

“Discussions were rich and lively and judges asked each other about their impressions and formed consensus by really hearing each other. Their choices are deeply relevant to our times,” Davis says.

The Alexia Grants program comprises both student and professional grants. Judging was held Nov. 6 for the student competition and Nov. 7 for the professional competition.

Judging sessions were also attended by Peter and Aphrodite Tsairis, co-founders of The Alexia, as well as members of The Alexia Photojournalism Advisory Council and Newhouse visual communications students. Graduate student Zoe Davis provided technical support and graduate student Jessica Stewart read proposals.

Judges named one winner in each category, plus second and third place honorees.

Photographer Cornell Watson of Durham, North Carolina, was the recipient of the $20,000 professional grant for “Behind the Mask.” Second and third place honorees were Amber Bracken of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and Isadora Kosofsky of Los Angeles.

Leonidas Enetanya, a student at the Photographic Center Northwest in Seattle, was the recipient of the student grant for “The Monét Archives.” Second place went to Zilan Imşik, a student at Istanbul University, and third place went to Michele Abercrombie, a graduate student in Newhouse’s multimedia, photography and design program.

“After talking to the recipients, I could see the richness and depth of the judge’s impressions of the entrants playing out in how the awardees talked about their work, their connection to the people they’re photographing and things they consider in the course of producing the work,” Davis says.

For insight into the judging process and selection of winners, view the judging session recordings.

Winners announced in the 30th annual Alexia Grant competition

The Newhouse School today announced the winners in the 2020 Alexia Grant competition. Now in its 30th year, the grant program supports student and professional visual journalists, helping them produce projects that inspire change by addressing socially significant topics.

Professional Grant

Photographer Cornell Watson of Durham, North Carolina, is the recipient of the $20,000 professional grant for his project, “Behind the Mask.”

Cornell Watson
Cornell Watson

The project “visually explores the stories of Black people and the various ways we wear the mask,” Watson says. “My hope is that it inspires Black people to be their true authentic selves in white spaces, and that it inspires white people to look within themselves to see how they contribute to a society that forces Black people to wear the mask.”

Watson says receiving the grant is a win for both himself and his community. “What Alexia stands for—its mission and purpose of bringing social injustices to the forefront—could not be more aligned with what I intend to do with my work.  I have an important story to share and winning the Alexia helps give me the freedom and resources to visually share that story with the world.”

Watson plans to use grant funding to continue collecting stories of the experience of being Black in America.

Amber Bracken
Amber Bracken

Second place recognition went to Amber Bracken of Edmonton, Canada, for “Generations,” an examination of how the harm from Canada’s Indian Residential Schools has manifested in successive generations.

Isadora Kosofsky
Isadora Kosofsky

Third place went to Isadora Kosofsky for “Permanent and Known,” which documents the impact of COVID-19 on senior citizens and adults with disabilities inside and outside facilities in the American West.

Student Grant

Leonidas Enetanya, a student at the Photographic Center Northwest in Seattle, is the recipient of the student grant for his project proposal, “The Monét Archives.” Enetanya will create a series of intimate portraits capturing candid moments in the lives of queer and transgender people of color who participate in ballroom culture. The main subjects will be members of The House of Monét, where Enetanya lives and which he describes as a place he feels “embraced, appreciated and understood” after having spent six years in foster care. With the portraits, he hopes to draw a contrast between subjects’ lives behind the scenes and their personas at the balls.

Leonidas Enetanya
Leonidas Enetanya

“Society needs to see our humanity. Too many people are blind to it. Someone has to show them. Who better than me?” Enetanya says. “Through my camera and writing, my subjects will be able to see themselves and be seen in a way they couldn’t otherwise… with this project, I can raise awareness of our perennial plight, promote empathy and fight transphobia during this revolutionary chapter in Black/LGBTQ history.”

As the student grant recipient, Enetanya will receive a fellowship for tuition and fees to enroll in three courses during a semester at the Newhouse School, as well as a $1,000 stipend and paid position as the research assistant to Mike Davis, director of The Alexia.

“This is the first competition I’ve won, and perhaps the first time in my life I’ve made a sincere effort towards a goal and achieved it,” Enetanya says. “It’s surprising. It’s like becoming aware of a power I didn’t know I had, that was in my hands all this time.”

Second place went to Zilan Imşik, a student at Istanbul University, for “Where is Home?” The project is a visual quest to find the home she had never known and rediscover her identity as a Kurd and member of the world’s largest stateless nation.

Zilan Imsik
Zilan Imsik

Third place went to Newhouse student Michele Abercrombie for “we live(d) in our heads,” a project about child abuse and having navigated childhood with an abusive parent.

Michele Abercrombie
Michele Abercrombie

Judging was held remotely Nov. 6 and 7, moderated by Davis. Judges were Noelle Flores ThéardLaylah Amatullah Barrayn and Joshua Rashaad McFadden.

“This year’s panel of judges brought a great depth and range of experience and knowledge to the process of determining who receives the grants,” Davis says. “Among the judges’ considerations were the photographers’ degree of connection to the stories they are telling, whether they thought the visual storytellers were capable of achieving what was being proposed, whether the work shown touched the issues addressed in the proposals, how much the grant would benefit the entrant and the combined strength of the proposal and work presented.”

About The Alexia

The Alexia began as the Alexia Foundation, created with the mission to promote the power of photojournalism to give voice to social injustice, and to support photographers as agents for change. It was established in 1991 by Peter and Aphrodite Tsairis in memory of their daughter, who was a photography student at Newhouse when she was killed in the bombing of Pan Am 103 in 1988. Since its founding, the Alexia Grant program has awarded more than $1.7 million to 166 photographers.

The Alexia Foundation became part of the Newhouse School and was renamed The Alexia earlier this year.

The program relies heavily on donor support to continue empowering visual artists to tell stories that drive change and change lives.

Finalists announced in the 2020 Alexia Grant competition

Finalists were announced today in the 2020 Alexia Grant competition for student and professional visual journalists. This is the 30th year for the competition.

“Each project is a testament to the power of visual storytelling,” says Mike Davis, director of The Alexia at the Newhouse School, which administers the grants. “It is an honor to have had the opportunity to review such outstanding work.”

Winners and runners-up will be announced Nov. 17.

Professional Grants

Finalists for the professional grant are:

Lys Arango, Spain, “Until the corn grows back”

Laura Boushnak, Bosnia Herzegovina, “Bosnia’s unfinished journey”

Anna Boyiazis, U.S., “Finding Freedom in the Water”

Amber Bracken, Canada, “Generations”

Scott Brennan, Mexico, “Indigenous Autonomy and Resistance in México”

Ben Cleeton, U.S., “The Town”

Chris Donovan, Canada, “The Cloud Factory”

Israel Fuguemann, Mexico, “Letters from a Distance”

Antonio Faccilongo, Italy, “Habibi”

Fabiola Ferrero, Venezuela, “I Can’t Hear the Birds”

Kiana Hayeri, Afghanistan, “The Fruits and The Gardens Are Inside The Heart”

Gabby Jones, U.S., “Roommates”

Isadora Kosofsky, U.S., “Permanent and Known”

Matjaž Krivic, Slovenia, “Coming Clean”

Jon Lowenstein, U.S., “The Advocate” (feature documentary film)

Catalina Martin-Chico, France, “On the edge of the jungle”

Fred Ramos, El Salvador, “The Dark Triangle”

Nicoló Filippo Rosso, Colombia, “Exodus”

Farshid Tighehsaz, Iran, “The new name of death”

Cornell Watson, U.S., “Behind the Mask”

Student Grants

Finalists for the student grant are:

Shirin Abedi, University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Hannover, Germany, “Invisible Students”

Michele Abercrombie, Syracuse University, U.S., “we live(d) in our heads”

Sumi Anjuman, Pathshala South Asian Media Institute, Bangladesh, “Somewhere Else Than Here”

Michael Blackshire, Ohio University, U.S., “Down in the Delta”

Hadley Chittum, George Washington University, U.S., “Sean and Lashonia”

Leonidas Enetanya, Photographic Center Northwest, U.S., “The Monét Archives”

Rebecca A. Fudala, International Center of Photography, U.S., “After Incarceration”

Zilan Imşik, Istanbul University, Turkey, “Where Is Home”

Louise Johns, University of Montana, U.S., “A New Kind of Tough: Ranch Culture Transforms in the American West”

Stephan Lucka, University of Applied Sciences Dortmund, Germany, “Something only we know”

Fayzul Mowla, VOHH Photography Institute, Bangladesh, “Climate Survival Island Kutubdia”

Fawaz Oyedeji, University of Lagos, Nigeria, “Yours In Arms”

Md. Masood Sarwer, Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi, India, “Unintended Consequences”

Farhana Satu, Pathshala South Asian Media Institute, Bangladesh, “Leukemia Fighters”

Subhrajit Sen, Counter Foto- A Centre for Visual Arts, Dhaka, India, “Death Valley”

Faiham Ebna Sharif, Uppsala University, Bangladesh, “Cha Chakra: Tea Tales of Bangladesh”

Maranie Staab, Syracuse University, U.S., “This is America: In defense of democracy, 2020”

Mouneb Taim, Self-Taught, Syria, “War Notes”

Fuxuan Xin, International Center of Photography, U.S., “Eight Out of Ten”

Ashima Yadava, International Center of Photography, U.S., “Front Yard”

“We are at a unique juncture of events globally, and this year’s finalist selections reflect a deep experiential connection with and understanding of these matters of great importance,” says Davis. “This group of finalists also includes a great range of story forms, an expansion of our profession’s visual vocabulary to be able to more broadly address and talk about the issues of today.

“Expanding the range of voices and forms of expression is essential to sustaining the profession, with the outcome of connecting with ever more diverse and abundant audiences, which is also at the heart of The Alexia’s mission.”

The professional grant competition drew 250 entries from 38 countries, while the student grant competition garnered 76 entries from 23 countries. The winner of the professional grant will receive $20,000 in funding. Student grant recipients receive a fellowship for tuition and fees to enroll in three courses during a semester at the Newhouse School. They also receive a $1,000 stipend and serve as the research assistant to The Alexia director, a paid position.

Prejudging was conducted by a panel of 10 industry leaders, including Zun Lee, Lauren Steel, Elizabeth Krist, Sandra Stevenson, Aidan Sullivan, Eileen Mignoni, James Dooley, Ed Kashi, Mike Davis and Yue Ren.

Judges were Noelle Flores ThéardLaylah Amatullah Barrayn and Joshua Rashaad McFadden.

The Alexia began as the Alexia Foundation, created with the mission to promote the power of photojournalism to give voice to social injustice, and to support photographers as agents for change. It was established in 1991 by Peter and Aphrodite Tsairis in memory of their daughter, who was a photography student at Newhouse when she was killed in the bombing of Pan Am 103 in 1988. Since its founding, the Alexia Grant program has awarded more than $1.7 million to 166 photographers.

The Alexia Foundation became part of the Newhouse School and was renamed The Alexia earlier this year.

Alexia Grant recipients included on ‘Best Photojournalism of the Decade’ list

Kaushal and Rajni at their marriage ceremony. Three sisters—Radha, 15; Gora, 13; and Rajni, 5—were married to their young grooms Aleen, Giniaj and Kaushal on the Hindu holy day of Akshaya Tritiya. Photo by Stephanie Sinclair.

Among the 10 photographers included on National Geographic’s list of the best photojournalism of the decade are three Alexia Grant recipients. Two of the featured projects were funded in part by Alexia Grants.

Stephanie Sinclair was honored for her work documenting child marriage. Noted National Geographic, “The project spurred a nonprofit dedicated to empowering women and ending child marriage.”

Sinclair received the Alexia Grant in 2008 to document child marriage in India, where she captured girls as young as five being married off, as well as a brave young girl who stood up against the practice.

Mary F. Calvert was commended for her work on sexual assault in the U.S. military and its lingering effects.

Calvert received the Alexia Women’s Initiative Grant in 2014 to document homelessness among female veterans, for whom sexual assault had derailed careers and caused long-lasting emotional impact. Calvert’s Alexia-supported project was the third chapter in her four-volume examination of the issue.

A black and white image of a woman crying.
Melissa Ramon endured military sexual trauma at the hands of her training instructor and fellow airmen during her nine years in the US Air Force. Ramon suffers from post-traumatic stress and has been homeless off and on since her discharge. Photo by Mary F. Calvert.

Matt Black’s “Geographic of Poverty” was also included on the list. Black traveled through 46 states and Puerto Rico, challenging the “mainstream representation of America’s poor,” discovering “who gets their needs met and who doesn’t; who’s valued and who isn’t.”

Black was awarded the Alexia Professional Grant in 2003 for “The Forgotten Black Okies: A Lost Journey into a Land of Broken Promises,” and the Alexia Student Grant in 1994 for “The Transbay Terminal: San Francisco’s Destitute Gateway.”

Black and white photo of a man standing in the doorway of a small shack, surrounded by detritus.
Louisiana migrant at home. Photo by Matt Black.

In addition, Maggie Steber, a judge for the 2012 Alexia Grant competition, was honored for her work documenting the world’s first face transplant.

“The Alexia: 30 Years,” recently published by the Alexia Foundation, features the photographic work supported by the Alexia Grants over the last three decades, including projects by Sinclair, Calvert and Black. Books are available for purchase through the Syracuse University Bookstore. All proceeds will directly support future grant recipients.

Newly-released book celebrates three decades of ground-breaking photography

Thirty years ago, the Alexia Foundation was established in the wake of tragedy with the goal of promoting photojournalism as a tool for social justice.

Since then, the foundation’s grant programs have supported the work of more than 150 documentary photographers across the world as they have embraced some of our most complex and diverse issues.

That work is celebrated in a new book, “The Alexia: 30 Years,” which was curated and designed by Bill Marr, former creative director at National Geographic.

The book includes essays by Alexia Foundation co-founder Aphrodite Tsairis and Peggy Peattie, the first professional Alexia Grant recipient. It features photographs by Ami Vitale, Marcus Bleasdale, Stephanie Sinclair, Louie Palu, Farzana Hossen, Katie Orlinsky, Abir Adbullah, Matt Eich and many others. The work is presented thematically through a deep view of the major themes explored by these visionary photographers.

Young girl standing on rocks

Professor of practice Mike Davis, who has served as Newhouse’s Alexia Tsairis Chair for Documentary Photography for the past seven years, says the book “brings forward 30 years of dedication to powerful visual storytelling that touched the world.”

Read Davis’ BuzzFeed interview>>

Dr. Peter and Aphrodite Tsairis established the Alexia Foundation in 1991 to honor their daughter, Alexia Tsairis. Alexia was a 20-year-old photography major at the Newhouse School when she was killed in the bombing of Pan Am 103 in December 1988 as she was returning home from a semester abroad in London. The foundation recently became part of the Newhouse School and was re-named The Alexia. Davis is director.

Copies of “The Alexia: 30 Years” can be purchased online from the Syracuse University Bookstore. All proceeds will support future grant recipients.

Alexia Foundation becomes part of Newhouse School

Alexia Tsairis in Rinchnach, Germany, November 1988. Photo by Emil Hoffman.

After 30 years of promoting photojournalism as a tool for social justice, the Alexia Foundation for World Peace has now become part of the Newhouse School at Syracuse University.

Dr. Peter and Aphrodite Tsairis established the foundation in 1991 to honor their daughter, Alexia Tsairis. Alexia was a 20-year-old photography major at the Newhouse School when she was killed in the bombing of Pan Am 103 in December 1988 as she was returning home from a semester abroad in London.

“Our partnership with Newhouse has been a true and lasting testament to Alexia’s legacy,” the Tsairises said. “As a student, she was proud to be part of the Newhouse community.” 

The Alexia Foundation was formed in partnership with the Newhouse School with the mission to promote the power of photojournalism to give voice to social injustice, and to support photographers as agents for change. Since its founding, the foundation has awarded over 1.7 million in grants to 170 student and professional photographers through annual competitions.

Young Black children at a campground in South Carolina.
Photo by Peggie Peattie, the first recipient of the Alexia Foundation professional grant in 1997.

“The Alexia Foundation grant had an enormous impact on my approach to visual storytelling,” says Peggy Peattie, winner of the first professional grant. “As a professional photographer who had covered an amazing variety of breaking news, feature stories and sporting events, I took a leap of faith and left it all to dive deep into a story that it seemed no one was willing to confront. Winning the Alexia grant not only gave me the confidence I needed to immerse myself in the project by validating my instincts, but gave me a supportive family of mentors, promoted my work and supplied the funds I needed to complete the project. Staying involved with the Alexia family over the years has kept me informed on critical ways of seeing, and of interpreting our role as documentary photographers and how we interact with the communities we are photographing.”

Katie Orlinsky was the recipient of the student grant in 2012, which supported her work documenting the innocent victims of the Mexican Drug War, and the professional grant in 2019, which allowed her to continue documenting Alaskan communities on the front lines of climate change.

“The Alexia Foundation has meant so much to me, offering me the support I needed at two of the most pivotal points in my career,” she says. “But more importantly, providing the resources needed to raise awareness and impact change on crucial issues.”

A woman tying a horse trailer as her boss watches
Photo by Tamara Voninski, the first recipient of the Alexia Foundation student grant in 1991.

Mike Davis, who has served as Newhouse’s Alexia Tsairis Chair for Documentary Photography for the past seven years, will continue to direct the competition, now supported by the Alexia Tsairis Competition Grants Fund.

“Thanks to the generosity of Peter and Aphrodite, we’ll be able to expand upon the Alexia Foundation’s mission of supporting significant visual storytelling for years to come,” Davis says.

To support these efforts, you may give online (click “Choose another Newhouse Department or Program Fund” and then select “Alexia Tsairis Competition Grants Fund” from the menu), or mail your check, payable to Syracuse University, to: Syracuse University Advancement Services, 640 Skytop Road 2nd Floor, Syracuse NY 13244.