Deana Lawson was awarded the 2020 Hugo Boss Prize.

Justin Kamp
Oct 22, 2020 5:54PM, via Guggenheim

Deana Lawson's Mama Goma, Gemena, DR Congo, 2014. © Deana Lawson, courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York; and David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles.

The photographer Deana Lawson has been awarded the 2020 Hugo Boss Prize, which comes with a $100,000 honorarium as well as a solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum, scheduled to take place in spring 2021. Lawson is the thirteenth recipient of the biennial prize, whose past winners include Anicka Yi and Simone Leigh, and is the award’s first photographer. Lawson was chosen from a shortlist comprising the artists Nairy Baghramian, Kevin Beasley, Elias Sime, Cecilia Vicuña, and Adrián Villar Rojas.

The prize jury said of their choice in a statement:

Lawson brilliantly negotiates the legacies of vernacular, documentary, and conceptual photography to create indelible tableaux of Black colloquial life. While appearing to be images of actual families, friends, and lovers, her large-format works are in fact highly staged, cast, and choreographed, grounding their subjects in aesthetically rich material environments even as they gesture toward an ethereal elsewhere­—a deft, remarkable feat. Throughout her oeuvre, Lawson employs a number of formal and conceptual strategies that we believe will occupy viewers and scholars for generations to come.

Lawson’s intimate portrait photography focuses on the materiality and domestic expression of Black life. Her photographs highlight both the subjects at their center, which often directly behold the camera, as well as the minutiae of their surroundings. She has exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Underground Museum in Los Angeles, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the KIT Museum in Düsseldorf, Germany, among others.

In a short film accompanying her nomination, Lawson described her practice:

The work isn’t necessarily a documentary project about the individual. I’m trying to image the mythic realm, or use the person as a vehicle to represent an entity beyond what is present. In some ways, it’s more like a collaboration for a literary project.

According to Artsy data, demand for Lawson’s photographs grew by leaps and bounds in 2017—the year she was included in the Whitney Biennial—with inquiries on her work increasing 18x from 2016. That level of demand continued in 2018, before dropping to a middle ground in 2019.

Further Reading: These Photographers Use Staged Portraits to Create Truthful Visions of Black Identity

Justin Kamp