The Award

Every photographer faces a set of moral and political choices about how to use their camera and how to represent the people they depict. No camera is a passive bystander, simply and passively recording some external reality; cameras have the point of view of their owners. Is the camera a weapon, reducing the powerful to mere mortality (like Richard Avedon) or making the familiar strange and grotesque (like Diane Arbus)? Rachel makes a choice to go the other way, in the tradition more of Dorothea Lange or Eve Arnold, reminding us of the simple dignity and even breathtaking beauty of the people over whom the economic machine runs in the march towards profits. Her photographs of Maasai women or Guatemalan peasant women reveal a resilience and grace that is poetic in its simple beauty. There is a marked gender difference in the photographs. The women relate to the camera, smile or stare directly into it, proud, tall, and engaged. The men seem far sadder; they look away from the camera, down, to the side, refusing to engage with the lens. Perhaps the toll is greater on them, since the penetration of the global market into traditional life not only displaces them from their land but also upends their traditional domestic privileges. The women may hold up half the sky, but they also seem to have their feet more firmly planted on the ground.

Michael Kimmel
Stony Brook University


The first prize is $2,500 USD, two years of honorary Board Membership to the International Sociological Association (ISA) Visual Sociology Research Committee, and publication of the winning essay as a “picture talk feature” with an associated DOI in the journal Visual Studies. The second prize is $1,500 USD and the third prize is $500 USD. All prize winners will be awarded student membership to the ISA and the Visual Sociology Research Committee. The prize is awarded biennially.

Application process

The applicant must submit two short sociologically-informed commentaries in English. One commentary must be based on one of the photos by Rachel Tanur and one must be based on an original photo taken by the applicant. Some of Rachel’s work is collected in the 2008 volume Visualizing Social Science: Photographs by Rachel Tanur (New York: SSRC Books). An online gallery can be viewed here.

Jury (2020 Competition)

  • Vilna Bashi Treitler, UC Santa Barbara (USA)
  • Maria-Carolina Cambre, Concordia University (Canada)
  • Vera Chang, UC Berkeley (USA)
  • Naydene de Lange, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (South Africa)
  • Cornelia Eckert, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (Brazil)
  • Li Hanlin, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (China)
  • Terence Heng, University of Liverpool (UK)
  • Anna Inés Heras, CEDESI-UNSAM- CONICET and INCLUIR (Argentina)
  • Analía Inés Meo, CONICET- UBA (Argentina)
  • Camilo Leon Quijano, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (France)
  • Vu Manh Loi, Viet Nam Graduate Academy of Social Sciences and Institute of Sociology (IOS),Viet Nam Academy of Social Sciences (Vietnam)
  • Elsa Oliveira, University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)
  • Susan Opotow, City University of New York (USA)
  • Nikita Pokrovsky, National Research University Higher School of Economics (Russia)
  • Flaminia Sacca, Università della Tuscia (Italy)
  • Maria Sereti, Independent Researcher (Greece)
  • Judy Tanur, Stony Brook University (USA)
  • Dao Thi Khanh Hoa, Independent Researcher (Vietnam)
  • Levi Vonk, UC Berkeley (USA)
  • Sarah Wilson, University of Stirling (UK)