Winning photographs of the inaugural Leica Women Foto Project Award

Editor's note: Do note that some images in this slideshow will be considered not safe for work (NSFW), as a few images depict nudity. Proceed at your own discretion if in a sensitive work environment.


Earlier this year, Leica Camera launched the Leica Women Foto Project to facilitate diversity and inclusion in photography. This past week, they announced the three winners of the inaugural Leica Women Foto Project Award. Selected from a pool of 600 submissions across the U.S., photographers Debi Cornwall, Yana Paskova, and Eva Woolridge were chosen by a panel of five industry-leading judges. Each winner received $10,000 and a Leica Q2 camera to pursue a personal project that tells a story through the female viewpoint.

‘The Leica Women Foto Project is a keystone program for Leica Camera USA as we expand opportunities to amplify visual stories told through the lenses of underrepresented perspectives. The overwhelming response of hundreds of USA-based submissions in just our first year alone is indicative of the ongoing need for platforms that invite conversations that provoke new ways of seeing,’ says Kiran Karnani, Director of Marketing for Leica Camera North America. ‘We welcome Debi, Yana, and Eva to the Leica family of storytellers and we look forward to the continued evolution of their impactful stories.’

Debi Cornwall

Debi Cornwall was chosen for her series Necessary Fictions which explores the role of American military intervention in a mysterious country called 'Atropia.' Cornwall travelled to ten military training centers across the U.S., constructed to resemble Iraqi and Afghan villages, to stage the photos in her series. By documenting these mock villages, battle scenarios, and ‘cultural role-players,’ used to train military personnel, Cornwall’s aim was to invite critical inquiry among viewers about a society in which war has become the rule rather than the exception.

Yana Paskova

Bulgaria-born, Chicago-bred and Brooklyn-based photojournalist and writer Yana Paskova created her winning series, Where Women Rule, based on her experience as a political asylum immigrant. Her aim with this project was to bridge humans’ understanding of each other. She describes the series as ‘a visual and sociological look at what happens when cultural norms of gender are amended or removed — via the all-female societies across the world, where women gather for shelter or in matriarchy — leaving us with new notions of femininity and masculinity, human bonds, family, and the fluid boundaries of identity.’

Eva Woolridge

Eva Woolridge, a self-proclaimed African-American and Chinese-American queer woman, brought her personal struggles with fertility to life in her project The Size of a Grapefruit. The series is an artistic representation of the traumatic experiences that ensued following her diagnosis of a dermoid cyst, which was the size of a grapefruit, and the resulting removal of her right ovary. Woolridge feels the removal could have been prevented had medical professionals been more proactive during early consultations. She hopes to shed more light on racial bias against black women seeking medical treatment, worldwide, by continuing the series with her prize money.

All three women will showcase photographs from their respective winning series in a joint exhibit at Leica Gallery Boston starting March 5th through April 26th, 2020. Visitors will be able to view the journey of their personal projects.

Fawzia and Nabil H.

Winner: Fawzia and Nabil H., by Debi Cornwall, from the Necessary Fictions series

About this photo/series: These are Iraqi role players photographed at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California. Describing the series, Cornwall states 'In Necessary Fictions, I photograph the mysterious country of 'Atropia.' Though fictional, Atropia actually exists: mock Afghan and Iraqi villages have been constructed on military bases across the United States to host immersive, realistic military training exercises for troops preparing to deploy. On ten such sites around the country, I document mock villages, battle scenarios, and 'cultural role-players,' civilian Afghans and Iraqis, many who have fled war only to recreate it, in costume, in the service of the U.S. military.'

Insurgent

Winner: Insurgent, by Debi Cornwall, from the Necessary Fictions series

About this photo/series: In Cornwall's own words: 'In a mobile studio I set up on site, I also make portraits with soldiers. They pose in front of a camouflage backdrop, appearing mortally wounded.'

For this body of work, Cornwall explored 'how fiction and reality blur within the post-9/11 fantasy-industrial complex.' Reflecting on her experience after visiting mock war sets on 10 different U.S. military bases, she says that 'despite the constant military conflicts since September 11, war has receded in the American consciousness. War has become white noise, the almost-invisible backdrop of our roiling sociopolitical moment, even as our civic life has become increasingly militarized at home. Meanwhile, entire industries have emerged to support the forever wars, both real and imagined.'

Dara Lam Village

Winner: Dara Lam Village, by Debi Cornwall, from the Necessary Fictions series

About this photo/series: 'My goal is to examine how fictions are deployed and embraced, and to invite critical inquiry among military and civilian viewers alike about a society in which war has become the rule rather than the exception.' This image was captured in Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) in Ft. Polk, Louisiana.

Smoke Bomb

Winner: Smoke Bomb, by Debi Cornwall, from the Necessary Fictions series

About this photo/series: A smoke bomb is detonated in a mock exercise meant to train military recruits by replicating real-life combat scenarios on one of the 10 U.S. bases that Cornwall documented.

Widows of Varanasi

Winner: Widows of Varanasi #4, by Yana Paskova, from the Where Women Rule series

About this photo/series: In Paskova's own words: 'Where do women rule and where are they a commodity? How do women develop in a near absence of men or patriarchy? My project aims to be a visual and sociological look at what happens when cultural norms of gender are amended or removed — via the all-female societies across the world, where women gather for shelter or in matriarchy — leading us to new notions of femininity and masculinity, human bonds, family and the fluid boundaries of identity.'

Widows of Varanasi

Winner: Widows of Varanasi #10, by Yana Paskova, from the Where Women Rule series

About this photo/series: 'Not in recent history have communities where women seek shelter, independence or support, been more relevant to our cultural climate and growth.'

Widows of Varanasi

Winner: Widows of Varanasi #7, by Yana Paskova, from the Where Women Rule series

About this photo/series: 'I aim to discover the intersect of these women’s stories as individuals and as a collective amidst arresting visual landscapes, with special attention to perseverance in the face of rejection and confidence in shedding convention.'

Widows of Varanasi

Winner: Widows of Varanasi #9, by Yana Paskova, from the Where Women Rule series

About this photo/series: 'My intent for this project's findings is that they serve as an immersive experience not just for consumers of visual culture, but also as a research and educational tool — hopefully starting with the youngest minds, where developing the concept of equality matters most.'

Widows of Varanasi

Winner: Widows of Varanasi #9, by Yana Paskova, from the Where Women Rule series

About this photo/series: 'Ultimately, I'd like to build connections between humans that overcome the limiting societal constructs of gender and geography.'

Inspection

Winner: Inspection, by Eva Woolridge, from The Size of a Grapefruit series

About this photo: In Woolridge's own words, 'this image represents my need to take initiative and research ovarian cysts following the surgery. My male surgeon didn’t give me information on how one ovary would affect my hormones, whether or not I could have kids, or why it even developed. I was left to process and research on my own.'

Denial

Winner: Denial, by Eva Woolridge, from The Size of a Grapefruit series

About this photo: In her own words, ‘this represents my denial in experiencing pain in my lower abdominal by putting it off as bad cramps, food positioning, and bloating, without listening to my body’s red flags. Black women are often dismissed by medical professionals when they address a reproductive concern. I had experienced signs of an ovarian cyst about two weeks before my emergency surgery, however was unfamiliar of them prior, and stayed quiet to not make a fuss.’

Empowered

Winner: Empowered, by Eva Woolridge, from The Size of a Grapefruit series

About this photo: 'This image represents the growth, confidence and power I gained after this cycle of healing was complete. Exactly a year later, I had used photography to spotlight a quiet issue plaguing other people with ovaries. The golden metallic grapefruit slice represents the one sliver of an ovary I have left, that shines bright with beauty and strength.'

Empty

Winner: Empty, by Eva Woolridge, from The Size of a Grapefruit series

About this photo: 'This represents the weight this surgical trauma had left me. Once my ovary was removed, I went through severe depression, isolation, and confusion from the betrayal of my body. My personality dimmed, I was forced to process and learn of this condition alone.'

Reflection

Winner: Reflection, by Eva Woolridge, from The Size of a Grapefruit series

About this photo: 'As an advocate for reproductive health, during my two months of healing, I had to ask myself who I was now with one ovary. Was I less of a woman? Could I be a mother in the future? How many other women experienced this trauma? Were they given preventative resources and information to avoid, or were they caught off guard too? And my biggest question is how can I heal from this while spreading awareness to others?'