The CatchLight Fellowship - A Closer Look at the Finalists

© Sarah Blesener

© Sarah Blesener

This year, CatchLight received a total of 327 proposals for consideration from all over the world. A jury of seven leaders in the field of social documentary photography—spread across four continents—spent two weeks reviewing the top 170 of the submissions before agreeing on a shortlist of finalists.

The judges reached a strong consensus that each of the shortlisted candidates abundantly represents the qualities sought for the CatchLight Fellowship: excellence in visual storytelling on a vital social issue, with particular emphasis on innovative distribution.

We are currently involved in the interview process with the finalists along with our partners, The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, Reveal (from The Center for Investigative Reporting) and The Marshall Project.

The Shortlist includes 11 photographers from six countries—Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, India, Singapore, Spain and the United States. Their work ranges from experiencing life in policed communities to the current global shortage of sand.

We wanted to give you a better glimpse of the work that are currently being considered for the CatchLight Fellowship - in their own words.

Danny Wilcox Frazier

Since 2003, Danny has photographed the "impact of depopulation on rural communities across the Midwest and Great Plains, including [his] home state of Iowa, documenting the slow decay that has turned many small towns into rural ghettos. Nationally, rural communities in the United States have lost more than 12 million people since 2000. The most recent census puts its share of the nation’s population at just 16 percent – the lowest in recorded history and down from 72 percent a century ago. My photographs do not shy away from the economic struggles many people in rural communities face due to out-migration. More importantly though, this project recognizes those individuals working to maintain their culture and identity in small towns and rural outposts throughout America.”

© Danny Wilcox Frazier, from "Lost Nation"

© Danny Wilcox Frazier, from "Lost Nation"

© Danny Wilcox Frazier, from "Lost Nation"

© Danny Wilcox Frazier, from "Lost Nation"

Laia Abril

"For the last 8 years I have been successfully working in creating narratives through many different platforms from: multimedia, web-doc, photo books, exhibitions as developing the use of many tools as photography, writing, video, design, reconstruction or research; always researching on the construction of storytelling pieces able to cross the bounders of stigma, taboos and prejudices. Trained both as a journalist and a documentary photographer I have also been working as a creative editor and researcher at Colors Magazine for 5 years. My interdisciplinary background and passion on teamwork has provided me tools and methodology enough to be able to connect both my journalistic and artistic practise in order to create powerful narrative projects. My aim is to continue investigating the best way to bring attention to these diverse uncomfortable aspects; hopefully having the resources and freedom needed to be able to built deep both visual and conceptual reports."

Her body of work has been exhibited and apprised mostly in Italy, Spain, Poland, London and New York. In 2010 she was nominated as an emergent talent by the agency Reportage by Getty and selected at Plat(t)form Winterthur Photo Museum 2012. Recently she is being nominated to the Magnum Foundation and the Joop Swart Masterclass.

© Laia Abril from "On Abortion"

© Laia Abril from "On Abortion"

© Laia Abril from "On Abortion"

© Laia Abril from "On Abortion"

Kirsten Luce

"I am deeply invested in covering the Rio Grande Valley, where I lived in 2006-2008 as a staff photographer for the daily newspaper The Monitor. This isn't a side project for me, it's my life's work. I returned time and again to cover the region in an unflinching and nuanced way. My goal is to create pieces that inform a wider audience but that my colleagues and law enforcement on the border will see as accurate and timely.

Most of the work I have done on the border has been produced independently. It wasn't easy. I researched, secured access, traveled and photographed each issue, sometimes over several visits. Then packaged, pitched and eventually published photo essays in Harper's Magazine, Bloomberg Businessweek (nominated for a National Magazine Award), and Time Magazine. Recently, I was offered border assignments by The New York Times Magazine and National Geographic (a collaboration with ProPublica, due out in Summer 2017) broadening my overall understanding of the region.

© Kirsten Luce from "As above, So below"

© Kirsten Luce from "As above, So below"

© Kirsten Luce from "As above, So below"

© Kirsten Luce from "As above, So below"

Hank Willis Thomas

"I want to position civic engagement as equally integral to a healthy nation’s economy and culture as consumerism. This work will promote freedom, justice, patriotism, and diversity in all of its forms, helping to ensure that all Americans are truly free to participate in our democracy. The Catchlight Fellowship would allow me to produce my first advertising campaign, which would revisit President Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, brought to popular attention by Norman Rockwell’s 1943 paintings: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Fear, and Freedom from Want. At a time when each of these freedoms, the bedrock of our modern understanding of human rights, appear to be in question, we must reinstate, re-investigate, and re-imagine them as central to our survival. I intend to fuse fine art photography and advertising to inspire critical thinking, open dialogue, and more complex political conversations in our ongoing pursuit of a more perfect union."

Hank is a photo conceptual artist working primarily with themes related to identity, history and popular culture.

© Hank Willis Thomas

© Hank Willis Thomas

© Hank Willis Thomas

© Hank Willis Thomas

Carlos Javier Ortiz

"As a documentary filmmaker and photographer my goal is to illuminate the daily lives of people who often recede into the shadows. I have spent the last ten years documenting men, women, and families who have lost their children to gun violence in Chicago. During that time, I have spent thousands of hours with people in vulnerable communities as they shared their gravest losses and fears for the future."

Carlos Javier is a director, cinematographer and documentary photographer who focuses on urban life, gun violence, racism, poverty and marginalized communities. In 2016, Carlos received a Guggenheim Fellowship for film/video. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally in a variety of venues.

© Carlos Javier Ortiz

© Carlos Javier Ortiz

© Carlos Javier Ortiz

© Carlos Javier Ortiz

Brian Frank

"In recent years, I have reported throughout California on organizations that challenge the perceived norms of community-engagement, intervention and policing. Initiatives with the boldest imaginations, the most reflexive responses, and the most unorthodox methods, are the ones that secure the greatest reduced violence, renewed trust and viable alternatives to crime for people caught in cycles of poverty and transgression. I’ve ridden with police special gang units, shadowed former gang members as they outreach to a younger generation, and photographed California’s last remaining youth prison work camp. Spearheaded by activists, cops, community-liaison teams and corrections professionals alike, all these initiatives share one thing in common: they intend to stop the flow of people into prisons or they equip them to get out and stay out of prison. . .I am fascinated by the out-of-the-box responses that ordinary citizens and law enforcement are pursuing in the interests of de-carceration, rehabilitation and better public safety. Anything but prison."

© Brian Frank

© Brian Frank

© Brian Frank

© Brian Frank

Tomas van Houtryve

"This weaponization of photography is a theme that surfaced in my seminal project, ‘Blue Sky Days.’ With my camera attached to a small drone, I traveled across America to photograph the same kind of gatherings that have become habitual targets of the US drone war abroad. I continued to explore the nexus of surveillance and photography with a subsequent project titled ‘Packing Heat.’ After reading that the New York police force was using thermal imaging to scan suspects, I decided to see how a camera using the same technology would render the human form."

© Tomas van Houtryve

© Tomas van Houtryve

© Tomas van Houtryve

© Tomas van Houtryve

Poulomi Basu

"I have made it my life’s work to expose the systemic violence against girls the moment they hit puberty. I have witnessed violence and the use of ritual as a mechanism of control in my own home in India. I have witnessed how my mother and grandmother, first as child brides and then as young widows, are prisoners of tradition. The moment I hit puberty, my movements were restricted. I was even a victim of child abuse by my very own brother. Upon my father’s sudden death, I left home: many women do not have this choice. I have a unique perspective as I am able to fully understand both how the women are controlled, how this makes them feel and what can be done to fix it."

© Poulomi Basu

© Poulomi Basu

© Poulomi Basu

© Poulomi Basu

Sim Chi Yin

"The world is running out of sand. It might seem counter-intuitive, but the material that goes into concrete, glass, computer chips we use daily is becoming scarce. Massive worldwide urbanization and land reclamation is driving this shortage. Sand is already the natural resource we use more of than any other except water and air. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) estimates global consumption at an average of 40 billion tons per year, with almost 30 billion tons used in concrete.

Put simply, sand is the story of our time. I want to help bring it to the global consciousness. This has special meaning for me: I come from the world’s largest importer of sand: Singapore.

© Sim Chi Yin

© Sim Chi Yin

© Sim Chi Yin

© Sim Chi Yin

Ziyah Gafic

"Muslims in the U.S. number over 3 million and counting. Most are of African or Asian origin, but the population is extremely racially and ethnically diverse. Even among immigrants, American Muslims are especially vulnerable: they are mostly non-white and relatively new arrivals, often from places that other Americans know little about, and they practice an unfamiliar religion associated with the most devastating terror attack in American history...And yet, the image that many Americans maintain of the Muslim communities among them diverges wildly from this reality. Mainstream media outlets often cover Muslims with a myopic focus on perceived tensions within broader American society, linking them to ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, or associating them with terrorist incidents. Muslims are cast as intruders, outsiders, or misfits, or sometimes even as a separate race, rather than as diverse adherents of a religion. Many Americans don’t know what being both American and Muslim actually looks like. Everyone has a story to tell, and understanding how identities are constructed and then portraying them to others in a way that breeds empathy will be crucial to preventing suffering in the coming months and years.

© Ziyah Gafic

© Ziyah Gafic

© Ziyah Gafic

© Ziyah Gafic

Sarah Blesener

"While issues of rising nationalism amongst youth have been widely investigated in Europe and Russia, especially after the collapse of the communist rule and the end of the Cold War, the patriotic gap between generations in the United States has left this issue under reported. In November of 2016, the F.B.I reported a six percent increase in hate crimes since the prior year, with attacks against Muslim Americans seeing the largest increase. In 2015, 892 hate groups currently existed in the United States, which grew by fourteen percent since the prior year. There was also a fourteen percent increase in anti-government “patriotic” groups, such as militias in the same year. With the rise of alternate-right groups in the United States, an increase of hate-crimes and a growing rhetoric of xenophobia and fear, combined with the lack of research on youth and nationalistic sentiment, the current political climate has made this work a necessity for me."

© Sarah Blesener

© Sarah Blesener

© Sarah Blesener

© Sarah Blesener

catch light

Berkeley, CA