The award ceremony for the ninth cycle of the Prix Pictet, the global award in photography and sustainability, was held at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London where Mann received a cash prize of 100,000 Swiss Francs (£82,000).
The event marked the opening of an exhibition at the museum which showcases the 12 photographic series shortlisted for the prize, all of which explore the award’s theme of fire.
Mann’s winning series, titled Blackwater (2008-2012), focuses on the destructive wildfires that engulfed the Great Dismal Swamp in southeastern Virginia, where the first slave ships docked in America.
She explained that the photographs draw a parallel between the wildfires with the racial conflict in America, saying: “The fires in the Great Dismal Swamp seemed to epitomize the great fire of racial strife in America – the Civil War, emancipation, the Civil Rights Movement, in which my family was involved, the racial unrest of the late 1960s and most recently the summer of 2020.
“Something about the deeply flawed American character seems to embrace the apocalyptic as solution.”
The Virginian-born artist, whose work often explores tensions between nature, history, and memory, is a three-time recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and was named America’s Best Photographer by Time magazine in 2001.
Speaking on behalf of the Prix Pictet Jury, Sir David King, chairman of the jury, said: “If ever there was a time for the Prix Pictet to take up the theme of Fire, that time is now.
“This past summer we were inundated with images of fire at its most frighteningly destructive… Of course, fire is a most capricious element, and its various faces were present in the group of shortlisted series.
“The jury considered an exceptional group of artists, each of whom demonstrated a highly distinctive approach to the theme, at times challenging our understanding of what photography can be.
“Sally Mann’s series, in particular, is a brilliant repurposing of historic photographic process to tell a chilling contemporary story.
“At the end of a rich debate the jury were unanimous in their decision that she was a worthy winner of the 9th Prix Pictet.”
The Prix Pictet, which was founded in 2008, aims to “promote discussion and debate on critical issues of sustainability”.
Each cycle of the awards tours globally, with exhibitions in over a dozen locations, bringing the work of the shortlisted photographers to a wide international audience.
The exhibition, titled Prix Pictet: Fire, is on show until January 9 2022 at the V&A.