The winner of the ICP / GOST First Photo Book Award 2020 is Léonard Pongo for the series The Uncanny. The shortlisted photographers are Jenica Heintzelman, Nura Qureshi, Bianca and riel Sturchio, Ilona Szwarc and Cansu Yıldıran.

Pongo will have his first photo book designed, edited, printed and published by the ICP / GOST imprint, scheduled for release in spring 2022. The Award aims to promote and support the work of previously unpublished photographers and artists through the production of a first photo book by the ICP / GOST imprint. This year, the Award attracted over 250 entrants from forty-six countries.

The Winner – Léonard Pongo for The Uncanny

This body of work explores Pongo’s relationship to Congo, and the inner process he went through as he tried to understand the region, reconnect with his heritage and the reality faced by the Congolese. Conversely, he came to terms with the limits of photography to show ‘the truth’ as well as his own limitations as a European-educated photographer in accessing and understanding the environment, bias, and stereotypes. Pongo began the project in 2011 with the intention of documenting the elections and their impact on the Congolese society. However, with time and thanks to discussions with his family, he accepted  that he could not define which stories mattered and that his agency alone could not tell a relevant Congolese story. The project evolved into a personal visual account confronting his family and the country, as well as collaborating with friends and family, immersed in their vision and letting them decide what he should witness.

The Shortlist

Jenica Heintzelman for Down a Stream

Stemming from Heintzelman’s own participation, this project explores the idea of healing trauma through re-enactments of mind-body interventions.  Different healing modalities are depicted through images of human interactions combined with mysterious interior spaces and still lives.

Nura Qureshi for Are You Calling Me a Dog?

This project reimagines the history of the Mau Mau Rebellion against British colonialism in Kenya, recreating scenes from the most prolonged anti-colonial struggle. Drawing on both historical sources including military and oral histories, and upon the places and people of contemporary Kenya, the series raises questions about power and freedom for both past and future generations of Kenyans.

Bianca and riel Sturchio for Chasing Light

This ongoing project between twin siblings Bianca and riel Sturchio, utilises photography to delve into complications of their respective non-normative identities and health-related challenges. The photographs, shot on medium format film, capture the activities of daily living, intimate partners, personal spaces, family, and moments of joy, pain, and frustration. Bianca and riel strive to reject the ‘disability-as-inferior’ narrative and invite a perspective that considers disability and non-normativity as an extension of human body-variance, which possesses unique potential for creativity, growth, and adaptability.

Ilona Szwarc for American Girls

Szwarc has documented American Girl Dolls and their owners in the streets and homes across the US. The dolls are customisable with variable skin tone, hair colour and style to match that of their owners. Szwarc’s young subjects are in the process of shaping their own identities and this is mirrored in their dolls. The project raises questions about the defining and categorising of identity, and who gets to be represented and how.

Cansu Yıldıran for The Dispossessed

The focus of this project is the village of Caykara near the Black Sea in Turkey, where Yıldıran’s mother grew up. In this village, women do not have the right to own property. Although Yıldıran’s personal beliefs are in opposition to ownership, she resented the choice being taken from her. The Dispossessed aims to give a voice to the women of the highlands who cannot have a room of their own.

The judges for the Award were:

Jacqueline Bates – Photography Director of The California Sunday Magazine

Mark Lubell – Executive Director, International Center of Photography

John Edwin Mason – Writer, academic and photographer

Stuart Smith – Director, GOST Books

Lindokuhle Sobekwa – Photographer

Cemre Yeşil Gönenli – Photographer, publisher and FiLBooks Director

Once again, we were delighted with the strength and diversity of  entries for the award coming from 46 countries. We would like to thank everyone who took the time to enter – so many deserving projects did not make the final. Congratulations to the shortlist – we could envisage them all as future publications. We look forward to working with Léonard Pongo in the coming months on his powerful and provoking long term project and can’t wait to bring this work into print in Spring 2022.

– GOST Books Director Stuart Smith

 The ICP / GOST First Photo Book Award is open to artists of any age, working in the medium of photography whose work has yet to be published in photo book form by a mainstream publisher. For further information on the Award please visit

Weathering Time by Nancy Floyd was the winner of the ICP / GOST First Photo Book Award 2019.

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