The photographer has won $10,000 in the first edition of a new prize aimed at self-publishers
A genre-busting look at life in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China has won the inaugural Anamorphosis Prize.
Carolyn Drake’s book Wild Pigeon shows the people and landscapes of the remote, rapidly changing province, 2000 miles from Beijing. Alongside the images, shot between 2007 and 2013, are also collages and drawings made by local people, and references to the story Wild Pigeon by Uyghur author Nurmuhemmet Yasin, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison by the Chinese authorities for ‘inciting separatism’.
Drake has described the problems she had in shooting in Uyghur Autonomous Region, which is viewed with suspicion by the Chinese government. “Uyghurs who carry on extended conversations with foreigners risk police interrogation,” she writes on her website, “and foreign journalists are routinely followed; meanwhile, some Uyghurs are opposed to artwork (including photography) depicting living creatures, since only Allah has the power to give life”.
In response she started to “look for meaning at the intersection of our views, and find ways to bring the people I was meeting into the creative process”, travelling with a box of prints, coloured pencils and a sketchbook, asking volunteers to draw on and reassemble her images. She also looked to music and literature “for inspiration in Uyghur approaches to storytelling”.
“I wasn’t initially thinking of it as a project, but I returned to Xinjiang over a span of seven years, and as I learned more about the situation there, I began to see there was a complicated story to tell, not only because of the changes that were happening, and the surprising ways I saw archetypes of Islam, traditional culture, and frontiers playing out, but also because of the questions it raised for me as a photographer and artist,” she tells BJP.
“It was the first time I tried that [handing over some of the creative control to her subjects],” she continues. “It was liberating. Also sometimes quite awkward.”