For his project In Asmara Eli Durst traveled to Eritrea’s capital, famed for the world’s largest collection of modernist buildings. Captivated by the cinematic street life, however, he turned his camera to hidden details and chronicled the East African city in silvery duotone. In 2011, Durst was volunteering at an immigrant detention center in Austin, Texas, where he assembled identification portraits for asylum applicants. Many of the people he met were from Eritrea and they spoke with longing and nostalgia for a place they had been desperate to leave. Given the region’s periodic droughts and ongoing political conflict, Asmara is now a point of departure for Eritrean migrants seeking asylum abroad.
Four years later, Durst traveled to Asmara with the intention of profiling the city’s legendary architecture. In the 1930s, Italian fascist forces constructed hundreds of new buildings in Asmara, often shaped like the era’s latest technology. Durst originally intended to capture these colonial-era monuments, but he soon discovered he was not permitted to photograph the decaying buildings. Instead, with visionary Italian cinema on his mind, he singled out the silent details of contemporary life: a movie theater, a trash dump, a table set for dinner, the backseat of a car.
See Eli Durst’s portfolio.
The purpose of the Aperture Portfolio Prize is to identify high-quality work by new voices in contemporary photography. When choosing the first-prize winner and runners-up, Aperture’s editorial and curatorial staff look for innovative bodies of work that haven’t been widely seen in major publications or exhibition venues.
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Aperture’s exhibitions are funded, in part, by an award from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and Charina Endowment Fund, and with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.