Leica publishes thought-provoking winning photos of 2021 Women Foto Project Award

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Anna Boyiazis

Today is the perfect day to celebrate women and remind ourselves how amazing we are. So, today is also a perfect day to share some work from female photographers. The second annual Leica Women Foto Project Award has just announced its winners, and we share their beautiful photos with you.

The goal of the contest is to help empower the female point of view through photography. The 2021 winners are Matika Wilbur, Karen Zusman, and Anna Boyiazis. Each of the winners will be awarded $10,000, a $4,995 Leica Q2, and a mentorship to support the continuation of their award-winning photo project.

Take a look at the winning projects, along with the stories about them and the photographers who created them.

Matika Wilbur

Matika Wilbur is an acclaimed Tulalip & Swinomish Pacific Northwest photographer and social documentarian. Her winning project is a stunning visual narrative of Tribal sovereignties in the US, titled Project 562, and it’s aimed to “change the way we see Native America.”

Wilbur has visited over 400 Tribal Nations in all 50 US states by car, RV, plane, train, boat, horseback, and on foot to create her project. She has exhibited her work and presented at scores of leading galleries, universities, and other venues while hosting her groundbreaking podcast, All My Relations, ranked at the top of feminist and race and society categories.

She is currently completing a 500-page book for Ten Speed Press of Project 562 photographs and oral narratives and is curating a massive career retrospective exhibition, and is a National Geographic Explorer for her Alaskan Tribal series. Matika’s extraordinary creative initiative and singular body of work began after a dream with her grandmother, who asked her to photograph their own peoples. Matika honors her ancestor by portraying the richness and diversity of lived experiences of Indian Country with bold and inspired creativity.

© Matika Wilbur
Welana Fields Queton (Osage, Muscogee, Cherokee) & P’haw Ah Tahlee Queton

© Matika Wilbur
. Wilson Mungnak Hoogendorn and Oilver Tusagvik, Inupiaq brothers from Nome Alaska, were the first to summit North America’s highest peak, Mount Denali, in the 2019 climbing season. I asked them how they prepared: “Doing hard things,” Wilson chuckles. “If you’re just constantly doing hard things, it’s a blip upward if you want to go. Do something crazy,” Oliver explains. Wilson agrees, “Just doing hard things makes everything easier.” They recall walking into the ranger station to register to climb and being met with sideways glances, “Are you sure?”, the ranger asked. “Probably because we didn’t look fancy”… Wilson mentions that most of the people that climb have really expensive equipment and many even have sponsorship. Despite doubt, they proceeded to break trail for the 2019 season at the third most prominent and isolated peak on Earth, after Mount Everest and Aconcagua. Denali, a kuyokon word that means “high”, “tall”, or “great one” is the highest mountain in North American at 20,310 feet above sea level.

“Running has been my absolute passion and my stability. When I transferred schools, I felt as if no one wanted me to succeed. My teacher told me it was in my genetics to be an alcoholic, my basketball coach would drug test only me on the team, and my track coach told me I would just be another stupid Indian runner with no chance in the real running world. I let those words motivate and push me until I earned the fastest times in the school, but she still wouldn’t let me race. My dad gave me these words “You can either be a quitter or come back a success story. Your choice.” That summer I trained harder than ever and came back strong. I made it to State. I made first team and placed in the Nike meet in Boise and Footlocker in California. I was Mead High School’s #1 runner. My story isn’t over. I will keep working hard to reach my goals. I will go to college so I can continue my success story that will inspire my fellow Native youth. I want to let them know that although the odds might not be in our favor, we come from a strong people. We are strong and will rise!” –
Hannah Tomeo (Colville, Yakima, Nez Perce, Sioux and Samoan Nations), Northwest Indian Youth Princess

© Matika Wilbur
“The canoe is more than just a vessel to carry our bodies; it carries the hope and resiliency of our people. We are living in a time of cultural resurrection, The Coast Salish sea beckons our bodies to commune with the ocean in our traditional way— to provide the lifestyle needed to feed our people. The elders say that our spirit gets hungry. Our spirit isn’t just hungry for food. It needs to be nourished by the sound of water pulling and drum beats pounding; it yearns for traditional Salish seafood that burns over open fires and emerges
from beneath the smoldering ground; our spirit grows hungry for the feelings that can only be sensed in those spaces. Traveling these ancestral waterways reinstates our wholeness as a people. These spiritual voyages embody the resilience of indigenous sovereignty. This is a revolution.”

© Matika Wilbur
Ethan Petticrew, Unangax. “We have a huge suicide epidemic up here with young people; I mean it happens all the time. It’s an epidemic in our villages; we have one, and then five more will follow suit…. I’m sick of it; it’s a product of a colonization. I remember being suicidal over it in my teenage years. At one point I tried pills because I thought, ‘Who am I? I don’t fit in anybody’s world. There’s too much white in me, and in the white world I have too much Native in me.’ We get lost sometimes, but the ones that love us the most are our own. I
can’t stand to see any more of our young people die this way; so I’ve committed myself to working with teenagers and young people in the dance group, that’s my contribution to keeping our kids safe. I know it won’t provide every single one of them with the tools they need but it’s my small contribution; to ground them in who they are. Hopefully that will help them with resilience and moving forward.”

© Matika Wilbur
Gary McAdams holds Ceremony for Witchia and Affilated Tribes. With his daughter ,Cassandra McAdams, they continue their family tradition of creating dreams for their community into a reality. In 1993 Ardinna McAdams, founded The Kitikiti’sh Little Sisters, aka Wichita Little Sisters, with two other matriarchs. Starting with six young womxn, the organization now has over 200 womxn that take pride in learning their Kitikiti’sh cultural activities, beadwork, sign language, and traditions. In honor of her mother Ardinna, Cassandra is now the organization’s leader.

© Matika Wilbur
Travis Goldtooth, Buffalo Barbie, Diné. Travis Goldtooth belongs to the Diné people from Navajo Nation and their Two-Spirit drag name is Buffalo Barbie. We met in San Francisco at the largest Two Spirit Pow Wow in the nation. This photo was taken before the powwow in the hostel as we were bustling about, doing our makeup, excited to be gathering with friends and relatives. That morning we walked along San Francisco’s bay while drinking coffee and chatting. I was moved by Travis’ loving nature and forgiving spirit: “I was pretty much
raised by my grandmother and she instilled all this cultural knowledge. In the Navajo culture, it’s a matriarchal society. And with the matriarch, which is my grandmother, once she passes, the next holder is a Two Spirit individual; it’s usually a male/female, an individual like me. When I moved back home five years ago, I fell into that role, and I guess I never looked back. My brothers and sisters look up to me. I have to do all the family event gathering and when is somebody’s in the hospital or something like that, I’m the first to be informed. It falls on me to give the news because they say, if it comes from me, it has more of a subtle warmth feeling; it’s not as a tragic news as if my brother gave it. They don’t freak out because they think I’m handling it. My cousins and sisters said, I couldn’t have done it without you. I don’t know what you did but everything smoothed out itself. I didn’t think of it, without knowing I’ve fell into that responsibility. I’m just talking to them and I give them advice as much as like, we were talking here, kind of like the cultural advices that we have.

Karen Zusman

Karen Zusman is a New York-based photographer who began her journalism career documenting human trafficking in Malaysia. Over the past several years, she has made over 20 trips to Cuba for a photo book project.

When travel came to a stop during the pandemic, Zusman was spending more time in New York. And this is where the inspiration for her winning project, The Super Power of Me Project, was born.

Growing out of her involvement with a Black Lives Matter bicycle protest group, her latest portrait series documents the strength and spirit of children of color in New York City. “It shows who they are before the world tells them otherwise,” the photographer explains. With the help of the Leica Women Foto Project Award, Zusman plans to expand the project to an outdoor exhibit and workshops that foster creativity and self-esteem building for children to express, protect and expand their vision of who they are.

© Karen Zusman
Kris, age 8, lives in Sheepshead Bay with his two brothers, mother and stepfather.

© Karen Zusman
Elena, age 9, lives in Harlem with her mother and grandmother.

© Karen Zusman
Bubba and his nephew, William. Ages 9 and 3. Bubba lives in Brownsville with his mother, sister and 3 year old brother, Legacy.

© Karen Zusman
David, age 10, recent immigrant from Russia, lives in Brighton Beach with his mother.

© Karen Zusman
McKenzie, age 9, lives with her mother in Harlem

© Karen Zusman
Nginga, age 12, lives with her brothers Legacy and Bubba and mother in Brownsville

© Karen Zusman
Kamalo, age 20, recently immigrated from Uzbekistan, lives in Midwood.

© Karen Zusman
Kalin, age 9, brother of Kris, lives in Sheepshead Bay.

© Karen Zusman
Paige, age 6, lives with her mother, Ebony and siblings in Sheepshead Bay.

Anna Boyiazis

Anna Boyiazis is a documentary photographer whose areas of focus include human rights, public health, and women and girls’ issues. Based between Southern California and East Africa, she has been working on her project Finding Freedom in the Water since 2016.

The winning series bears witness to women and girls in Zanzibar who are learning to swim, which she describes as, “an act of emancipation in an ultraconservative region where such an act conflicts with patriarchal, religious norms.” Boyiazis’ work focuses on an in-depth, visual narrative of these women and girls, revealing the intimate context of their daily lives. With the support of the Leica Women Foto Project Award, she will be able to resume her work on the project later this year by returning to Zanzibar during the dry season and continuing to document the women and girls she has built relationships with so far.

© Anna Boyiazis
Swim instructor Siti, 24, helps a girl float on Nov. 17, 2016 in the Indian Ocean off of Nungwi, Zanzibar.

© Anna Boyiazis
Primary School students learn to float, swim, and perform rescues on Oct. 25, 2016 in the Indian Ocean off of Muyuni, Zanzibar

© Anna Boyiazis
Swim instructor Chema snaps her fingers as she disappears underwater on Dec. 28, 2016 in Nungwi, Zanzibar

© Anna Boyiazis
A young woman learns to float on Nov. 24, 2016 in the Indian Ocean off of Nungwi, Zanzibar.

It wasn’t only the contestants that were women, but also the contest judges. Wilbur’s, Zusman’s, and Boyiazis’ projects were selected by nine influential women in photography, art, and journalism.

Leica Camera will also be holding a virtual Summit in April to further celebrate women in photography. It will be open to the public, and those who submitted for the contest will have access to some exclusive content. For additional details on the exact dates and sign-up information, visit Leica’s website and follow Leica on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

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