A standing ovation for photographer/writer Ruth Gruber, who in her 19 books documented refugee crises and humanitarian issues, marked an emotional high point at the International Center of Photography’s Infinity Awards, held last night in New York City. Gruber, 99, won the Cornell Capa Award, named for ICP’s founder. She told the audience that Edward Steichen had told her to shoot with her heart. “I try to use these images to fight injustice and hopefully bring peace to the world,” she said.
Many of the awards underscored the ICP’s original mission as an institution devoted to supporting humanistic photography. In his opening remarks, ICP director Willis Hartshorn noted the increasing dangers facing photojournalists around the world. He expressed gratitude for the safe return of two past Infinity winners, Tyler Hicks and Lynsey Addario, who had been captured and detained in Libya this spring, and noted the deaths in Libya in April of Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros. He said their work was “a testament to their dedication to the spirit of ICP’s mission.”
In accepting the Lifetime Achievement award, Elliott Erwitt said, “The wonderful thing about being a freelance photographer is the opportunity to be in marvelous situations sequentially.” In the video that preceded his speech, he noted that Photoshop, while a powerful tool, has hurt photography’s credibility. In the video, Erwitt then donned a black wig, fake mustache and sunglasses, and adopted the persona of a pretentious art photographer who “adores Photoshop.” The art photographer’s advice to young photographers: “Photograph many famous people and print the pictures big. The bigger they are, the more artistic.”
The video, showing many of Erwitt’s amusing photos, brought laughs from the audience, but at the end of the video Erwitt said, without disguise, “I think there is sadness in many of my pictures. But humor and sadness are closely related.”
Adrees Latif, a photographer for Reuters, won the Photojournalism award for his coverage of the floods in Pakistan. He thanked ICP for honoring images of “one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time.”
Abelardo Morrell, winner of the award for Art, showed his camera obscura images for which he is best-known, and also recent work he has done exploring the west, using a tent to create images that are cast on the ground. The Infinity Award for Publication was awarded to From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America, the catalogue of a Walker Art Center retrospective of Alec Soth’s career. Soth (“Rhymes with both,” the photographer said in the video shown before his speech, “it’s a lifelong problem”) said he became photographer because he is “a socially awkward person” who “wanted to work alone,” but over time he’s been drawn more and more into collaborations like the one he had with the Walker Art Center. “The truth is, I like it.”
Other awards given out were the Applied Photography award, given to fashion photographer Viviane Sassen; the Writing award, given to writer and curator Gerry Badger; and the ICP Trustee Award, given to the Durst family of real estate developers, who are also ICP’s landlords.
Among the photo industry people attending the Infinity Awards were photo editors Kira Pollack, Paul Moakley and Patrick Witty of Time; Michelle McNally of The New York Times and James Estrin of the Times’ Lens blog; New Yorker director of photography Whitney Johnson and her predecessor, Elisabeth Biondi; Jack van Antwerp of The Wall Street Journal; Chris Dougherty of People; David Friend, editor at Vanity Fair; Stefano Tonchi, editor of W; Glenda Bailey, editor of Harper’s Bazaar; photographers David Burnett, Misha Erwitt, Ron Haviv, Rick Smolan, Susan Meiselas and Lynsey Addario who, having spent the last few weeks in New York accepting an Overseas Press Club award and giving interviews, was on her way home to New Delhi.
—Holly Stuart Hughes