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.
Photographer Cornell Watson of Durham, North Carolina, is the recipient of the $20,000 professional grant for his project, “Behind the Mask.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
Judging was held remotely Nov. 6 and 7, moderated by Davis. Judges were Noelle Flores Théard, Laylah 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.