by Maggie Steber
Three American photographers have received the prestigious Leica Women Foto Project Awards, announced on International Women’s Day in March. This year’s winners are Matika Wilbur, Karen Zusman, and Anna Boyiazis. They were selected by a diverse panel of judges ranging from award-winning photojournalists to renowned contributors to photography. This is the second year that Leica Camera USA has given these honors. Each recipient is awarded $10,000 and a Leica Q2 as well as a mentorship to support the continuation of their award-winning photo projects.
Project 562 is a visual narrative of US Tribal sovereignties, covering over 400 Tribal Nations in all 50 states. Matika Wilbur, an acclaimed Tulalip and Swinomish Pacific Northwest photographer. She started this singular body of work when her Native grandmother came to her in a dream asking her to photograph their people. Matika honored her grandmother’s wish by portraying the richness and diversity of lived experiences in Indian Country. She engages deeply with Native communities, taking her time to understand the stories and histories of the tribes. The experiences of each tribe and individual shapes the way the portraits are executed. There is a strong sense that her work reflects a true partnership between artist and person. This is her fourth major creative project elevating Native American identity and culture. A National Geographic Explorer for her Alaskan Tribal series, Matika is completing a 500-age book using the photographs and oral narratives.
Karen Zusman, documentary photographer, takes us back to an important time in growing up, just before we go out into the world. In The Super Power of Me Karen celebrates young lives of color and immigrants in photographs that show the spirited natures of who they are before the world tells them otherwise. She finds her subjects in chance meetings. A Ghanian father said her photographs gave his children “the living proof that they are the superheroes they always imagine themselves to be.” Karen has received a grant from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting and co-founded a free mobile education project in Burma for child laborers.
In Anna Boyiazis’ project Finding Freedom in the Water, women and girls in Zanzibar learn to swim, which for them is also an act of emancipation and confidence building. This project goes deeper than the surface. It addresses a step toward self-empowerment for these women who live in a controlled culture. What looks like swimming lessons is something much deeper, both historically and culturally. Anna was a 2019 Pro Pictet Nominee and 2018 World Press recipient. She is a documentary photographer.
This prestigious award is a part of the Leica Women Foto Project committed to diversity in visual storytelling and to help empower the female point of view through photography. It is open to women and female-identifying persons residing in the United States.