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Maurice Berger receives award for “Race Stories” column

UMBC professor Maurice Berger has received an award from the International Center for Photography for his “Race Stories” column in the New York Times Lens section. Berger, a research professor and Chief Curator for the Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture, has become a major national figure in his respective field of media studies.

The ICP’s Infinity Awards are considered some of the highest honors in photography and visual culture. The selection committee includes other art curators and academics in the field such as Isolde Birelmaier, Executive Director of Arts, Culture & Community at Westfield; Marina Chao, Assistant Curator at ICP; James Estrin, Lens blog co-editor and senior New York Times staff photographer; and Antwaun Sargent, writer and critic.

These awards have recognized emerging talent and major contributions to fields such as art, fashion, publishing, photography and photojournalism since 1985. On April 9, there will be an official gala commemorating this year’s ICP Infinity Award Invitees in New York City.

”I am honored to receive an award long considered important to the community of photographers, writers, editors, and curators of which I’m a part,” Berger said to UMBC News. “To write monthly for the New York Times about the ways photography mediates the issues of race fulfills a long held dream. To have that work acknowledged and rewarded by my peers, in addition to the incredible support I get from Times readers, is truly wonderful.”

Berger’s monthly column, titled “Race Stories”, is an unconventional look at the relationships between the concepts, themes and social issues surrounding race and photography. The essays explore a range of subjects and photographers, including contemporary African American art and Latino/a, Asian-American and Native American photography.

Berger’s motives are best encapsulated in his December 2017 essay Using Photography to Tell Stories About Race. He writes, “As a Jew, I have known anti-Semitism. As a gay man, I have known homophobia. But neither has seemed as relentless as the racism I witnessed growing up — a steady drumbeat of slights, thinly-veiled hostility and condescension perpetrated by even the most liberal and well-meaning people. It was painful to watch, and as my friends let me know, considerably more painful to endure.”

Berger hopes that these columns can help young people understand racial issues. He says to UMBC News, “I always write my essays for The New York Times and curate my exhibitions on race and visual culture with young people in mind… because if you can inspire a young person to see the world in new ways, then you can inspire anyone. I get a lot of emails from high school teachers and college professors, who tell me they routinely assign my ‘Race Stories’ essays to their students. I’m an educator, first and foremost. The principal purpose of my work is to teach racial literacy through visual culture.”

Berger’s work has been additionally showcased in other publications such as Wired, Artform and Aperture and the Los Angeles Times. His latest essay appears in an April special issue of National Geographic that covers the issues of race.