Steven M. Cozart Wins 2016 Lange-Taylor Prize for “The Pass/Fail Series”

Steven M. Cozart. Triptych, charcoal, pastel, and collage on brown paper bags, 2014, by Steven M. Cozart.

Steven M. Cozart. Triptych, charcoal, pastel, and collage on brown paper bags, 2014, by Steven M. Cozart.

The Center for Documentary Studies has awarded the twenty-fourth Dorothea Lange–Paul Taylor Prize to American artist, illustrator, and documentarian Steven M. Cozart. His winning proposal, The Pass/Fail Series, primarily explores colorism within the African American community. The $10,000 prize is given to encourage documentary work in the tradition of acclaimed photographer Dorothea Lange and writer and social scientist Paul Taylor and supports documentary artists—working alone or in teams—whose extended fieldwork projects rely on the interplay of words and images.

The Durham, North Carolina, native began an ongoing body of work meant to spark introspective dialogue about issues of “classism and stereotyping by African Americans toward other African Americans based on several factors, including skin tone, hair texture, gender roles, and other myths and fallacies prevalent in the community.”

For The Pass/Fail Series, Cozart interviews friends, family, colleagues, and students—African Americans of various backgrounds and ages—to make paintings, drawings, mixed-media collages, and short videos about each subject and “uses the photographs, video stills, and audio excerpts from these conversations to create combinations of imagery and text. The individuals’ portraits and words are drawn on the surfaces of paper bags; the portraits on the side, the words on the bottom. The portraits take on a life of their own when matched with the subjects’ words. My intent is that the viewer imagines they can hear the voices of the individuals speaking.”


To see the images in more detail, click here to view the series in Issuu.

“The work evokes the ‘brown paper bag test,’ a discriminatory act that was used in some social circles within the African American community to determine whether an individual could have privileges of access,” writes Cozart. The Pass/Fail Series, he believes, will create dialogues “that promote sensitivity, understanding, self-awareness, and self-love. It is a project with no perceived end, as it involves conversations that must continue to take place in the African American community as we move into the future. My ultimate goal is to spark conversations both inside and outside of the community as a means to create understanding and, hopefully, minimize or even eradicate fallacies and preconceptions.”

The members of the Lange-Taylor Prize Committee also awarded an Honorable Mention to photographer Carlotta Cardana and writer Danielle SeeWalker for The Red Road Project, a collection of photographs and stories exploring the “relationship between Native American peoples and their identities today.” An Honorable Mention was also awarded to photographer and filmmaker Phyllis Dooney and writer Jardine Libaire for the transmedia project Gravity Is Stronger Here, about an “archetypal American family in Greenville, Mississippi, who—together with their openly gay daughter, Halea—dream out loud while fighting recurrent domestic narratives.”

More information on the other finalists, both solo artists and teams, for the 2016 Lange-Taylor Prize.

More information about the Lange-Taylor Prize, and 2017 guidelines. Submissions will be accepted from February 1 to May 7, 2017.

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