The winner of the 2012 Center for Documentary Studies/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography is Gerard H. Gaskin for his black-and-white and color photographs that document, as Gaskin writes,
“The balls are a celebration of black and Latino urban gay life and were born in Harlem out of a need for black and Latino gays to have a safe space to express themselves. Balls are constructed like beauty and talent pageants. The participants work to redefine and critique gender and sexual identity through an extravagant fashion masquerade. Women and men become fluid, interchangeable points of departure and reference, disrupting the notion of a fixed and rigid gender and sexual make-up. All of this happens at night in small halls in cities all over the country. These photographs, taken in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., show us different views of these spaces as they are reflected in the eyes of house and ball members who perform what they wish these cities could be. Balls have come a long way since their beginnings in Harlem; they have influenced popular culture through dance forms such as vogue and gained attention through documentary films like Paris Is Burning. My images try to show a personal and intimate beauty, pride, dignity, courage, and grace that have been painfully challenged by mainstream society.”
Renowned curator, historian, and photographer Deborah Willis judged the competition and chose Gaskin to win the prize. She says that she found Gaskin’s photographs “innovative and spirited,” the images filled with both hope and struggle as “they explore ideas of longing, beauty, and desire.
“Gaskin’s work looks at the notion of transformation as he turns his lens on what it means to be ‘desired,’ and at the same time, what it feels like to be alienated. His photographs are as exciting to look at as they are a means for imagining the lived experiences of the communities he has documented. Gaskin’s role is not one of spectator but of interpreter as he enters this safe space of self-creation. In search for beauty, Gaskin’s photographs open our eyes to an extraordinary community of artists who are performing beauty.”
Duke University Press will publish the prizewinning book in November 2013. See a slideshow of Gaskin's images and visit the CDS/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography website to find out more about the prize: firstbookprizephoto.com.