Professor recognized in 2017 Paris PhotoBook Awards

By Olivia Deloian, Campus Reporter

Mackenzie Crosson
Part-time faculty member in the Photography Department Cecil McDonald met with the Chronicle on Oct. 4 to discuss his new photography book, “In the Company of Black.”

Cecil McDonald Jr., adjunct professor in the Photography Department and Columbia 2007 photography alumnus, has been nominated for the 2017 Paris Photo-Aperture Foundation PhotoBook Awards for his book, “In the Company of Black,” competing in a pool of more than 900 other submissions for the award.

McDonald said there are typically only two photographic representations of black people—wealthy or poor—but never in the middle. His photographs from “In the Company of Black” showcase these subjects, whom he calls forgotten people. The theme emerged in a project from his graduate studies at Columbia and has evolved over the years, he added.

“[‘In the Company of Black’] is a book that seeks to highlight and consider, in a photograph, people who are in the middle of the spectrum of what the American conscience thinks of when they think of black people,” McDonald said.

The book includes approximately 50 photographs McDonald has taken over seven years, but the book itself took about a year to create, he said.

McDonald said the process took a year because the book was a collaboration with his friend Matt Austin’s company, Candor Arts, a company that deals with publishing and art production.

“We put all this energy into the book, picking nice materials because we wanted it to function and look like a beautiful object as well,” McDonald said.

Lesley A. Martin, creative director and publisher of the PhotoBook Review at Aperture, a nonprofit foundation that publishes photography, said the awards started in 2012. Paris Photo is the largest international photo fair, and after the organization had reached out to Aperture in 2012, the two groups began working together to create the $10,000 prize, she said.

“The idea was to recognize the contribution PhotoBook has made to the larger field of photography,” Martin said, “meaning it’s a vehicle for individual bodies of work, [and] it’s a way that we learn about and share photography.”

The competition has two stages: narrowing the submissions down to 35 books, where McDonald’s is currently, and selecting a winner by a five-person committee Nov. 10 in Paris.

Martin said prizes in three categories are awarded to the finalists including the First PhotoBook award, the Photography Catalogue of the Year award, and PhotoBook of the Year award.

Greg Foster-Rice, associate professor in the Photography Department, said the department is proud of McDonald’s recognition for his work.

“I’ve long admired [McDonald’s] work as a photographer,” Foster-Rice said. “He is just a terrifically decent human being who’s really well-connected to the city and believes in the project that he does, which is to ensure the representation of blackness in Chicago and America is done in an honest and fair way, and I really appreciate his photographic project in that regard.”

McDonald said that he is excited for what adventures lies ahead and for the oppourtunity to visit Paris with the potential to win the grand prize for his book.

“I’m excited not only for the book, but all the things that’s kind of happened that I hadn’t intended, from making the book and actually putting it in the world,” McDonald said.