Photographer Justyna Mielnikiewicz Awarded $30,000 Grant from W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund in Humanistic Photography for “A Diverging Frontier: Russia and its Neighbors”

Share Article

Oscar B. Castillo Receives Smith Fund Fellowship for “Our War, Our Pain. The Debacle of a Dream” and Liza Faktor Receives Howard Chapnick Grant for “Practicing Transmedia in Photojournalism”

July 2015--Kiev Youth plays at the city beach on Dnieper River pouring water on each other. Copyright Justyna Mielnikiewicz

It is a great honor to be a Smith Grant recipient because it is a huge endorsement for photographic work – a certificate of its quality and the photographer’s commitment --- Justyna Mielnikiewicz

The W. Eugene Smith Fund is pleased to announce that Justyna Mielnikiewicz is the recipient of its 2016 grant in humanistic photography for her project, A Diverging Frontier: Russia and its Neighbors, which explores how Soviet Republics like Georgia and Ukraine are still looking for ways to break away from Russia’s sphere of influence. Receiving the Smith Grant will allow her to complete the work, which began in 2001, and present a comprehensive visual guide to the region 25 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The $30,000 grant was presented to Justyna Mielnikiewicz during the foundation’s 37th annual awards ceremony at the SVA Theater in New York City.

“It is a great honor to be a Smith Grant recipient because it is a huge endorsement for photographic work – like a certificate of its quality and the photographer’s commitment,” said Ms. Mielnikiewicz, Polish-born and now a citizen of Georgia, in a recent interview. “What makes the prize special is the support it gives to mid-career photographers for their long term commitment to storytelling. Today, with newspaper budgets increasingly shrinking, photographers must become their own producers of important work. Grants like the Smith Fund become a life support for journalists to be able to produce in-depth, long term stories.”

December 2016 will mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Soviet Union, when 15 Soviet republics became independent countries. Some of them remained within Russia’s sphere of influence, while others like Georgia or Ukraine keep trying to break away and become independent. Mielnikiewicz's project explores the reality of regional border divisions over 15 years, with particular focus on the human toll since Russia's recent annexation of Crimea and its campaign in Ukraine. Her photographic portfolio is a continuation of a larger body of work she has been creating in the Caucuses and Ukraine since 2001.

“Mielnikiewicz had a personal interest in the struggle for her country, and others like Georgia, to create their own identity and remove themselves from the shadows of Russia,” explains Whitney Johnson, Deputy Director of Photography at National Geographic, Smith Fund Board member, and this year’s judging committee Chair. “Her photographs offer a personal look at life on the edge, both literally and figuratively, and the struggles nations are facing to find their own identity and break free from Russian influence.”

Oscar B. Castillo was also honored as recipient of the Smith Fund Fellowship for his proposal, Our War, Our Pain. The Debacle of a Dream, and awarded a $5,000 Fellowship. Castillo’s long-term independent project explores the causes and consequences of violence in Venezuela and its attempts to confront deep political turmoil. Entering a new phase of the project, Castillo focuses on a more complicated problem as inflation, corruption, and violence are reaching alarming levels and engulfing every aspect of Venezuelan daily life. “It is an honor and a high responsibility to be awarded this fellowship in the name of Eugene Smith’s legacy,” explains Oscar B. Castillo. “This fellowship represents a very important recognition not only for me but for the value of the stories I aim to share with the public.”

“Castillo’s project demonstrates an absolute commitment to his work and his subjects by telling a story of corruption and violence that affects the lives of citizens in way that is both truthful and compassionate,” Whitney Johnson said.

Judges for this year’s grant and fellowship included Whitney Johnson, Deputy Director of Photography at National Geographic, Smith Fund Board member, and this year’s adjudication committee Chair; Kristen Lubben, Executive Director, Magnum Foundation; and Lekgetho Makola, Director of Market Photo Workshops in South Africa.

Recipients of the 2016 W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund grant and fellowship were selected from hundreds of submissions received from 40 countries. Recent recipients of the grant include Matt Black (2015), Joseph Sywenkyj (2014), Robin Hammond (2013), and Peter van Agtmael (2012). A complete listing of recipients can be viewed at

This year's Howard Chapnick Grant was presented to Liza Faktor, a visual documentary producer, curator, and co-founder of Screen, a visual documentary production company. Ms. Faktor received the grant for Practicing Transmedia in Photojournalism, an agile study of cross platform (transmedia) approaches to visual journalism. Transmedia approach to storytelling brings new and exciting opportunities to journalism. Developing stories for multiple platforms such as print, film, books, art, interactive, broadcasting, performance, public spaces, and campaigns, utilizes multiple disciplines and delivers them to otherwise disparate audiences while increasing support for their production. “I am truly honored to receive this grant in the name of Howard Chapnick, an industry pioneer who had supported so many amazing photojournalists and their commitment to storytelling,” said Ms. Faktor.

Alex Gibney, Oscar-winning Director, and Founder of Jigsaw Productions, and Kathy Ryan, Director of Photography, The New York Times Magazine, gave the evening’s keynote presentations.

The W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund is supported by generous contributions from The Incite Project, The Phillip and Edith Leonian Foundation, Anastasia Photo, and Canon USA. Additional support is provided by Aperture, Brilliant Graphics, Center for Creative Photography (CCP), the International Center of Photography, Media Storm, Photo District News (PDN), the School of Visual Arts BFA Photography, MFA Photography, Video and Related Media Department, and Synergy Communications.

About The Smith Fund Grant
The W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund is presented annually to photographers whose work is judged by a panel of experts to be in the best tradition of the compassionate dedication exhibited by W. Eugene Smith during his 45-year career in photojournalism. The grant enables recipients to undertake and complete worthy photojournalistic projects.

Images from this year’s award recipients are available upon request. Please contact Lou Desiderio at to receive hi-res photos and captions.

# # #

Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Lou Desiderio
Visit website