We can officially say it now. New York City-based Elizabeth Bick is the winner of the 2016 Rudin Prize for Emerging Photographers at the Norton Museum of Art.
The announcement Thursday night was the climax of the biennial group exhibition that rewards one of the exhibiting photographers with $20,000. Shortly after 7 p.m., Bick heard her name being called out by Beth Rudin DeWoody and was visibly surprised.
“I don’t think I’m awake right now. I’m about to pass out,” she said. “I gotta call my mother.”
She had been sitting next to the other three nominated photographers whose work has been on view at the Norton Museum since November. One of them, Wesley Stringer, won the People’s Choice with 3,000 museum visitors voting for him.
“It doesn’t mean you are not worth it just because you didn’t win,” DeWoody said right before reading Bick’s name. “It’s like the Oscars. The nomination is what’s most important.”
The biennial award and exhibit, named after the late New York City real estate developer Lewis Rudin and debuted in 2012, is designed for emerging photographers who have not had a solo museum exhibition. The Norton’s Photography Committee, this year composed of 16 people, makes the ultimate decision. Only once so far, in 2014, has the popular vote coincided with the committee’s selection.
To eliminate the temptation of sharing the outcome and potential of a news leak, the committee only met Wednesday night to democratically arrive at the winner.
“It would be nice if everyone won $20,000. Wouldn’t it? But the most valuable thing is the exposure and the company,” said Tim B. Wride, the museum’s William and Sarah Ross Soter Curator of Photography, who was part of the panel along with Executive Director Hope Alswang.
On view still through Jan. 15, the group show features more than 48 photographs, videos, and installation works by Clare Benson, Alexandra Hunts, and Stringer, who were nominated by Arno Minkkinen, Rineke Dijkstra, and Michael Kenna, respectively.
Each one of them “blasts the boundaries of their media,” Wride said.
Bick, who studied classical ballet and holds a MFA in photography from Yale University School of Art, was nominated by Iranian artist and filmmaker Shirin Neshat. Her work “examines the public and private display of individual and collective movement as pantomime,” as her website says. The urban space she walks daily — from five to 12 miles — serves as a canvas and every day brings a new landscape with immense possibilities. Her work involves a lot of photographing and unavoidable “failures” because it is not possible to capture all the street scenes and plots developing before her eyes.
“With Elizabeth, she is very clear about being a street photographer but there is also this operatic sensibility. This sense of gesture and choreography,” Wride added.
Speaking before the announcement during a Q&A session, the photographer appeared poised, answered questions eloquently and confidently, and yet seemed to be shielding herself from potential bad news.
“Being an artist is a very difficult path. It’s about being resilient, knowing that no matter what happens you are still going to create your art,” Bick said. “It’s a marathon, not a race. There’s no rush. This is something I want to do for the rest of my life.”
Winning a prize like this one has multiple effects on an artistic career, Wride said, because it affords the artist time to sit back and re-evaluate the work.
“In a way, it buys them the luxury of time. But there is also a psychological edge,” he said. “It gives some affirmation that the path chosen is the correct path. That comfort level it gives can’t be bought.”
Israeli photographer Rami Maymon, who received the Rudin Prize in 2014, knows a little bit about that.
“For me, winning the prize greatly contributed to my overall confidence and was another landmark confirming the art that I am making,” Maymon said via email.
That same year, upon returning to Israel, he won the Lauren and Mitchell Presser Photography Award for a Young Israel Artist followed by a solo exhibition at Tel Aviv Museum of Art. The year after, he got the Israeli Ministry of Science and Culture Prize followed by an exhibition at the Herzliya Museum of Art.
The money bought him a new camera and allowed him to move to a bigger studio and publish his first book.
Bick, currently a faculty member at the International Center of Photography, the Pratt Institute and the School of Visual Arts, plans to take the summer off, during which she normally has to work, to create a new body of work.
“I make work as if nobody was going to look at it. That’s what sustains me. It operates outside of ego.”