ST. PETERSBURG, FL – Barbara Davidson of the Los Angeles Times is the winner of Cliff Edom's "New America Award" at the National Press Photographers Association's 2010 Best Of Photojournalism competition today.
Her essay, which appeared in the Los Angeles Times in November as a front-page story that continued to a double-truck spread inside the paper and appeared on the paper's Web site as both a multimedia feature and a flat gallery, documented the lives of more than 8,000 Navajo Indians who live on a 1.6 million acre tract of tribal land in northeastern Arizona.
In 1966 the Bureau of Indian Affairs outlawed development of the land that was being claimed by both the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe. There was a "freeze" on any development while the dispute was being settled. Unfortunately for the people who lived on the land, that dispute wasn't settled until May 2009 when President Barack Obama officially repealed the law. So for more than four decades it was illegal for the Navajos to erect or repair homes, build roads, or connect to basic services like electricity or running water.
"I'm really honored about how well this piece has been received," Davidson told News Photographer magazine today. "I do a lot of documentary photography, that's where my soul is, so to win this is a big honor for me, to recognize special issue documentary photography."
The Edom Award recognizes excellence in photographic storytelling about rural or ethnically diverse people. Clifton C. Edom (1907-1991), a University of Missouri School of Journalism professor, co-founded the Missouri Photographic Workshop with his wife, Vilia, in 1949. A fundamental belief behind Cliff Edom’s “New America Award” is that in urban communities and rural towns the spirit of diversity is celebrated and witnessed in everyday life. One goal of the award is to recognize award-winning photographic storytelling about communities, groups, and issues in America that are often under-covered by the mainstream press.
"Everything about this portfolio set it apart from its competitors," judge Monte Trammer said. "The angles, lighting, the clear amount of research, access, and the ability of the photographer to become a part of the community. These photographs brought light to an issue, which the readers had never seen before. It was a unanimous first-place choice. The judges wanted to note that there were three other very strong entries which made the final round of four." Trammer is the recently-retired publisher of Gannett Co., Inc.
The multimedia portion of Davidson's story – titled "Frozen Land, Forgotten People" – has also won in NPPA's 2010 Best Of Photojournalism contest, taking first place in the News Audio Slideshow category for Web sites that are affiliated with a major media organization. "Albert Lee sat down with me and the pictures to produce that piece," Davidson said today, "and he deserves the credit for that, he did a great job."
Davidson and Los Angeles Times reporter Kate Linthicum covered the story in October and November of last year, spending a couple of weeks on the reservation. "It was pretty intense," Davidson said today. "I was really lucky, I was assigned to this story, Kate had found it. Usually with my documentary work, it's something that I find, but Colin [Crawford, the Times' assistant managing editor of photography] gave me this assignment and we were warned that working in the Navajo community might be very difficult, that we might not get that much. So our expectations going out there were not really that high."
The photojournalist says that when they got to Arizona, some local activists who work on Native American causes introduced them to some key families on the reservation who talked to the journalists and told them their stories. "That kind of gave us a 'green light' on the reservation then, so other people knew they could feel safe talking to us. We were very surprised then by the access we got, and we are very grateful for how willing they were to tell us their story. It's a pretty hidden story, it hasn't received much coverage, and I think that in the end they were fed up with living the way they were living [under the legal freeze] and thought that the media could help give them a more public voice."
Davidson has been back on the story since it ran after Obama signed the law's repeal, and she's currently working on a new multimedia piece and a flat gallery that will run as a follow-up. "Since the president signed the repeal, there's been very little change," Davidson said today, "and that's the problem. But what we'd hoped for was that this piece would create awareness, and it's done that. But I have my eye on this story and will continue to follow it, and I think it's really great that Colin sent me back again."
While she was a staff photographer at The Dallas Morning News, Davidson was a member of the photography team awarded the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News team coverage of Hurricane Katrina. She was on assignment in Israel the day the award was announced. That same year she was the Newspaper Photographer of the Year in the University of Missouri School of Journalism's 63rd annual Pictures of the Year International contest. Before working in Dallas, Davidson studied at McGill University and Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Davidson's award-winning Cliff Edom's "New America Award" essay is online here, and the multimedia award-winning presentation is online here.
NPPA's 2010 Best Of Photojournalism competition is sponsored this year by The Poynter Institute for Media Studies, ibiblio, Camera Bits, Ohio University, and the St. Petersburg Times.