Best in Show: Valerio Spada’s Book Gomorrah Girl

Valerio Spada
Valerio Spada
From left: The cover of Valerio Spada's self-published photo book Gomorrah Girl, the grand prize winner of 4th annual Blurb Photography Book Now Competition. The book is an artfully made documentary about adolescence in one of the most dangerous places in Italy to grow up. Image right: Rossa (The Red Sail), 9th Floor, Scampia, Naples. Anna, nine years old.

Blurb, the self-publishing giant, and sponsor of the Photography Book Now, announced the competition’s $25,000 Grand Prize winner today—Italian photographer Valerio Spada for Gomorrah Girl. The book, which lead judge Darius Himes, assistant director of Fraenkel Gallery and co-founder of Radius Books, described as compelling, explores the murder of Naples resident Annalisa Durante, a young woman caught in the crossfire of violence in “the land of Camorrah,” (the name for the Mafia in Naples).

Gomorrah Girl shows the problems of becoming a woman in a dangerous, crime-ridden area,” says Spada, who studied in Milan and has worked as a fashion photographer. “At age 9 they make themselves up as TV personalities and dream of becoming one of them. At age 13 or 14 they often become mothers, skipping the adolescence which is lived fully everywhere else in Italy.”

The story comes together in the books innovative design—Spada’s own documentary photographs, along with a smaller book of photographs detailing the police investigation, are bound together. Captions offer details into the personal tragedies suffered by the subjects alongside stone-cold factual information provided by police evidence. “At first glance, Gomorrah Girl may seem to be an unassuming even haphazard book,” says Larissa Leclair, a photography curator/writer and a judge in this year’s contest, “but as each page unfolds, the viewer is challenged by layers of meaning.” 

“This is a moving book of photographs and documents that one wants to return to repeatedly,” says Himes, describing what made the book a winner.

Spada, whose early forays into self-publishing involved a short-lived periodical Cross Magazine, says the book’s design, which he worked on with Sybren Kuiper, was the result of  circumstance. He had wanted to take pictures of the original murder evidence, but the Italian police denied him permission. Handing over photographs of the crime scenes, “the police told me, ‘If you want, you can take pictures of the pictures.’ I remember I was depressed, thinking, ‘I cannot get what I want,’” says Spada, “But I shot every single page. And while I was shooting, all was clear once again. This had to be a book within a book.”

Blurb

Blurb Finalists

The Photography Book Now competition, now in its fourth year, is open to anyone, amateur or professional, as long as the work is self-published. 

The winners of Photography Book Now 2011 are:

Grand Prize Winner: Valerio Spada, Gomorrah Girl

Fine Art Category Winner: Rene Nuijens, Yuri Gagarin, 50 Years of Human Space Flight

Documentary Category Winner: Rafal Milach, In The Car With R

Travel Category Winner: Thomas Michael Alleman, Sunshine & Noir

Student Category Winner: Goseong Choi, Umma

Fine Art, First Runner Up: Alexey Vanushkin, A Letter

Documentary, First Runner Up: Christopher Capozziello, The Distance Between Us

Travel, First Runner Up: Dimitri Mellos, It’s Strangest Patterns

Student, First Runner Up: Mandy Barker, Soup

Fine Art, Second Runner Up: René Clement, Promising Land

Documentary, Second Runner Up: Yann Gross, Kitintale

Travel, Second Runner Up: Zoltan VancsoOcean of Sighs — Cuba

Student, Second Runner Up: Matthew Avignone, An Unfinished Body

People’s Choice, Fine Art: Zoltan Vancso, Unintended Light

People’s Choice, Documentary: Peter Irmai, Summer Garden

People’s Choice, Travel: Idan Hojman, Along The River

People’s Choice, Student: Ian Waelder, Circus Life

To learn more about the contest, visit here.

Free and open to the public.

The books will be on display Thursday, September 15, from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. at the Aperture Gallery in New York City. RSVP here. 


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