The Meero Foundation supports the W. Eugene Smith Grant

Oct 16, 2020 by Joy Habib

Last June, when The Meero Foundation chose its first project to support, it was urgent to find new ways to tell the story of a world in crisis. We granted our support to Fotodemic, a media run by young graduates of the prestigious International Center of Photography in New York. There, they showcase the work of photographers and visual artists who use new technologies to give depth to a world that has become flat and to tell stories that fall by the sidelines of traditional media. 

By choosing to support the W. Eugene Smith Grant, we aim to remain faithful to the values that guide the choices of the Meero Foundation: to educate the general public on the role of images and to support the work of committed artists who strive to bring about positive societal change. 

We are proud to be a sponsor of the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund,  an institution that seeks to reward photographers working off the beaten track to highlight important causes, following in the footsteps of the great photojournalist W. Eugene Smith.

But who was W. Eugene Smith? 

Photojournalist William Eugene Smith distinguished himself by his poignant photo essays published in LIFE magazine. During his eminent career, which included coverage of World War II and an industrial scandal in Japan in the 1970s, Smith set out to tell the inconvenient truth. His deep commitment led him to sacrifice much in the name of his values: when he died in 1978 at the age of 59, he only had $18 in his bank account. 

Yet he left a rich legacy to the generations of photographers who claim him as their inspiration. The fund that bears his name is a major institution in the world of arts and culture: for 41 years, it has been rewarding photographers who do humanistic and compassionate photographic work. 

The dedication of W. Eugene Smith is far from forgotten: this year, Johnny Depp plays the photojournalist in a biopic that tells the story of his last big photo essay, an investigation in the city of Minamata where many residents fell victim to industrial poisoning. 

An exceptional year

The W. Eugene Smith Fund is breaking a 40-year-old tradition:  the $40,000 W. Eugene Smith Grant is usually awarded to a single photographer. This year, however, five different photographers are each being awarded a $10,000 grant. With the pandemic having hit the worlds of arts and documentary photography, the Smith Fund Board of Trustees felt that the grant would better serve its purpose if it were divided among several photographers. 

In the words of Smith Fund President Phil Block: “I am proud of the decisions the board of trustees made this year to adjust the structure, and tradition, of the Smith Fund to financially support more documentary photographers during an unprecedented time in our history,”

The Smith Fund also awarded the ‘W. Eugene Smith Student Grant’ to Ksenia Kuleshova, a Russian student documenting the life of LGBTQ communities in Russia, and the ‘Howard Chapnick Grant’ to Stephen Ferry, curator of the OjoRojo Fabrica Visual.

Who are the winners? 

From armed violence in Colombia to the disaster in Fukushima and the Turkish Quran schools, the winners of the 41st edition tell stories that are often left untold. 

In a touching series, Mariceu Erthal Garcia (Mexico) retraces the footsteps of a missing woman, Gemma, and reconstructs the fragments of life she left behind. Mariceu stages landscapes, flowers, and poems that testify to Gemma’s desire to live. Laura El-Tantawy (Egypt), paints the portrait of a disappearing way of life, that of Egyptian farmers who work the land. In her series, she uses her grandfather Hussein as her model. Yuki Iwanami (Japan) looks back on the devastation of the Fukushima explosion with an emphasis on the human and personal aspect of major historical events. Andres Cardona explores the political violence in Colombia that marked his childhood and destroyed his family through the murder of his mother, father, and uncle. Finally, Sabiha Cimen (Turkey) documents the lives of young girls in Quran schools of which she herself was a student. 

In each of these works, personal tragedies are inextricably linked to our shared History. The winners take an authentic look at painful realities and their work is a contribution to the construction of a better world. 

The Meero Foundation is proud to be one of the sponsors of this edition which rewards these committed and daring artists.  

Yuki Iwanami

Yuki Iwanami: “Blue Persimmons”

Mariceu Erthal GarciaMariceu Erthal Garcia: “Letters to Gemma”

Sabiha Çimen

Sabiha Çimen: “Hafiz: The Guardians of the Quran”

Andres CardonaAndres Cardona: “Wreck Family and the Colombian Conflict”

Laura El-Tantawy

Laura El-Tantawy: “I’ll Die for You”

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