Aperture is pleased to announce that Donavon Smallwood is the winner of the 2021 Aperture Portfolio Prize. With his meditative black-and-white project Languor, a series of photographs taken in New York’s Central Park, Smallwood envisions Black tranquility at the center of the urban landscape. Smallwood’s work, chosen from more than 1,200 submissions, will be published in the Summer 2021 issue of Aperture magazine, and he will receive a $3,000 cash prize. As part of Aperture’s ongoing collaboration with Baxter St at The Camera Club of New York, the venue will host Smallwood’s solo exhibition of Languor, July 21—August 25, 2021.
As Mikelle Street writes in Aperture, Smallwood’s body of work was inspired by The Lost Neighborhood under New York’s Central Park, an eight-minute documentary released on Vox in 2020 that tells the story of Seneca Village, a nineteenth-century African American community located on land that is now Central Park. Interested in how the public space was stripped from that community, Smallwood intended to create a narrative of Black life distant from the demands and distortions of the news cycle. Smallwood’s images, with their clarity and precision, invite viewers to consider Black people in natural settings connected to their own cultural history. As Smallwood himself affirms, “When you see Black people just being themselves, that’s what the art is.”
The Aperture Portfolio Prize aims to spotlight new talent in photography, identifying contemporary trends in the field and highlighting artists whose work deserves greater recognition. In addition to the winner, Aperture’s editors selected four runners-up for the 2021 Portfolio Prize: William Camargo, Chance DeVille, Jarod Lew, and Anouchka Renaud-Eck.
They join the ranks of illustrious past winners of and shortlisted artists for the Portfolio Prize, including Dannielle Bowman, Jessica Chou, Eli Durst, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Natalie Krick, Jack Latham, Daniel Jack Lyons, Mark McKnight, Drew Nikonowicz, Sarah Palmer, Bryan Schutmaat, Ka-Man Tse, and Guanyu Xu. This year, alongside the five shortlisted artists, Aperture’s editors selected twenty finalists. The finalists and shortlisted artists will each receive a virtual portfolio-review session with an Aperture editor, providing thoughtful and constructive feedback on their work. The twenty finalists are: Bryan Anselm, Rachelle Bussières, Amarise Carreras, Ronghui Chen, Myles Golden, Jon Henry, Wing Ka Ho, Kovi Konowiecki, Michal Luczak, Spandita Malik, Steven Molina Contreras, Laura Pannack, Miraj J Patel, Ginevra Shay, C. Rose Smith, Elliott Verdier, Marianne & Katarzyna Wasowska, Wei Zihan, Amani Willett, and Zhidong Zhang.
Donavon Smallwood (born in New York, 1994) is a self-trained photographer who grew up in a household that emphasized literature and deep engagement with the tradition of art. For him, photography—like all art and creation—is a communion with the divine; and he uses the medium as a means of exploring humankind, imagination, essence, and nature. Smallwood holds a BA from Hunter College, New York. His first monograph, Languor, is forthcoming in June 2021.
The Aperture Portfolio Prize is an annual international competition to discover, exhibit, and publish new talents in photography. The purpose of the Aperture Portfolio Prize is to identify trends in contemporary photography and highlight artists whose work deserves greater recognition. When choosing the first-prize winner and runners-up, Aperture’s editorial staff looks for innovative bodies of work that haven’t been widely seen in major publications or exhibition venues. The Aperture Portfolio Prize is open exclusively to Aperture magazine print subscribers.