We are delighted to announce Laura Page as the winner of the fourth annual Rebecca Vassie Memorial Award for her proposal ‘The Hidden Depths’, a series of portraits of people aged over 80, challenging the assumption that older people no longer live remarkable and surprising lives.
The ￡2,000 bursary will support Page as she travels the UK seeking to capture the daily lives of a diverse and surprising range of people from Britain’s oldest generation.
The award, which also includes ￡1,000-worth of printing at the prestigious London printer Metro Imaging, was set up in memory of the British photojournalist Rebecca Vassie, who died suddenly in March 2015, aged 30, while on assignment in a refugee camp in Uganda. The award supports an early-to-mid career professional photographer, funding a project that focuses on human stories with a social or political context.
The award opened for entries before coronavirus became a global health emergency and the pandemic means that Page must wait for restrictions to lift before she can undertake her project. However, it provides added impetus: Page is keen to show older people in a fresh light after a public health narrative that has focussed on their vulnerability.
Page, who studied at Sheffield University and works as a freelance photojournalist and socially engaged practitioner, specialises in co-producing artistic work with marginalised communities. She has recently undertaken a commission exploring the impact of gentrification in Sheffield, and conducted photography workshops with people facing terminal illness. Her work has been published in The Guardian, The Independent and the Financial Times.
Judges for this year’s award included Caroline Hunter (picture editor, Guardian Weekend Magazine), Phil Coombes (picture editor, BBC news online), critic and curator Jennifer Thatcher, photographer Ben Bird, theatremaker and journalist Adam Barnard, and Rebecca’s mother Janet Vassie. The judges were impressed by Page’s passion for socially engaged photography, her sensitivity towards her subject and her determination to shine a light on an age group that can often seem invisible.
Page’s search for subjects begins now and the photographer is keen to hear from older people with unusual lives or pursuits; her initial examples include an 81-year-old ballet dancer, a 93-year-old cutler and an 80-year-old DJ. She can be contacted through her website, laurapage.co.uk
Page said: “I’m delighted to have won this award and immensely grateful for the opportunity to undertake my project ‘The Hidden Depths’. It means a lot to me both in terms of professional support and also being given the chance to represent older people in a positive and empowered way, especially during these current times when many stories we are hearing relating to older people are unhappy ones.”
Janet Vassie, Rebecca’s mother and one of the judges, said: “Laura’s passion was the first thing that struck me: passion about her work in general, as well as heartfelt passion for this project. I am really excited about ‘The Hidden Depths’. It definitely feels like a story – or set of stories – waiting to be told, and we are thrilled to be able to support Laura on this journey.”
Two further applicants were highly commended: Joseph Fox for his proposal ‘La puerta del desierto’, examining desertification in Spain, and Jamie Sinclair, who applied with a project on male dancers and societal ideas of masculinity. Fox and Sinclair both receive ￡300 seed funding towards their projects. Page, Fox and Sinclair also receive membership of photography network Shutter Hub. Also shortlisted from more than 70 applications were Laurence Coulton, Daniel James Homewood and Cathy Masser. A total of twelve longlisted applicants gain access to the Trust’s Development Network, which disburses small grants towards education, training and practice development.
The first Rebecca Vassie Memorial Award was won by James Arthur Allen in 2017, who documented the Circassians, a little-known Islamic community in Israel. Four images from his collection were shortlisted for the 161st edition of the Royal Photographic Society’s International Photography Exhibition. The 2018 Award funded Kirsty Mackay’s project ‘The Fish That Never Swam’, investigating the relationship between health and social housing in Glasgow. For the 2019 Award, photographer Chrystal Ding travelled to Rwanda to document the therapeutic process for young survivors of the 1994 genocide. Her resulting set, ‘Yours is Going to Be Healed As Well’, was published by the BBC last month.