Laura Morton, a freelance documentary photographer based in San Francisco, USA, has been announced as the winner of the 2018 Canon Female Photojournalist Award.
The award, which is in its 18th year, provides €8,000 of funding towards a new project, which will be exhibited at the 2019 Visa pour l'Image photojournalism festival.
Previous winners have focused on topics such as female former FARC guerrillas in Colombia, the segregation and oppression of Pashtun women in Pakistan, and military sexual assault survivors in the US. But Laura's winning proposal, University Avenue, is something a little different.
Her new project is named after the road that acts as a fault line between two very different worlds in her home town. "University Avenue begins at the elite Stanford University, runs through the perfectly manicured downtown Palo Alto, past the mansions that tech executives call home, and then crosses Highway 101," she explains.
"After that, though, things immediately look different. The road continues through the heart of East Palo Alto, past small homes, businesses and community organisations and ends at the Bay, right next to the Facebook campus. My goal in documenting the lives of those who live and work along this street is to put a human face on income inequality and to illustrate how one community can be left behind while being surrounded by so much wealth."
The figures on inequality are inescapable: government statistics show that the per capita income in Palo Alto is $77,419 while in East Palo Alto it's just $18,675. "Palo Alto is one of the richest towns in the country," Laura notes. "The CEO of Apple is there, Mark Zuckerberg lives there. But on the other side of the highway, 18% of the population is living below the poverty line."
"I got the idea one day when I was driving on Highway 101, coming back from Silicon Valley," recalls Laura. "There's a sign announcing the exit for University Avenue that says Palo Alto one way, East Palo Alto the other way. These two towns right next to each other have vastly different economic realities, and I realised this would be a good way to highlight this income divide concisely."
The new project marks a natural progression from Laura's previous series, the award-winning Wild West Tech, funded by a grant from the Magnum Foundation, which explored the tech industry culture in San Francisco and Silicon Valley.
"That project was aimed at documenting what I saw as a modern-day gold rush," says Laura.
"People were coming from all around the world with an idea but no money, living the dream for a couple of months, and then flaming out. For example, I photographed some guys who were couch surfing the whole summer while they were working on their app. One night, they had to sleep in their co-working office because they didn't have money for anywhere else. I felt that side of things was being overlooked by the media and needed to be documented, as an important moment in the history of this boom-bust town."
Laura sees this not just as a local issue, but a pressing national one. "In America, the gap between rich and poor is the largest since the Roaring Twenties," she says. "Since the 1970s, inequality has been growing and it's estimated the top 1% now controls almost as much of the nation's wealth as the bottom 90%."
Laura is grateful for the prize that will enable her to bring this important issue to light. "More subtle stories, as economic issues often are, often take immense amounts of research and time in the field to tell properly," she points out. "So I'm very thankful to Canon for sponsoring this award, which will give me the opportunity to dive in and give this project the time it needs."