The purpose of the Aperture Portfolio Prize is to identify trends in contemporary photography and highlight artists whose work deserves greater recognition.
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. The winner receives $3,000 and an exhibition at Aperture Gallery in New York. All finalists are featured on Aperture’s website, accompanied by a brief statement written by Aperture staff and will also have the opportunity to participate in the Aperture Foundation limited-edition print program. Past finalists include Amy Elkins, Bryan Schutmaat, Jessamyn Lovell, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Michal Chelbin, and Sarah Palmer.
Asmara is mesmerizing because it shouldn’t exist. With the world’s largest collection of intact modernist buildings, the capital of Eritrea is replete with symbols of a radical, early-twentieth century experiment of Italian colonialism in East Africa. Villas, hotels, and factories appear as if from another world. A would-be destination for cultural tourists, Asmara is also, given the region’s periodic droughts and ongoing political conflict, a point of departure for Eritrean migrants seeking asylum abroad.
In 2011, Eli Durst began 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. They spoke with longing and nostalgia for a place they were desperate to leave. Four years later, Durst traveled to Asmara and spent fifteen days photographing the city in atmospheric, silvery duotone.
Durst intended to profile Asmara’s legendary architecture, an open-air archive of stylish Italian design, whose progress was brought to a halt in 1941 when British forces captured Eritrea. He thought about Italian cinema, about the films of Michelangelo Antonioni and Federico Fellini. “I wanted the aesthetic to mirror the history of the place,” he says. Turning away from the spectacle of visionary buildings in decay, however, he found a movie theater, a trash dump, a table set for dinner, the backseat of a car. The life going on around the buildings was more captivating than the buildings themselves. Conjuring the city in its present tense, Durst’s brief study of Asmara reflects the moods and motions of a singular urban landscape.
About Eli Durst:
Born and raised in Austin, Texas, Durst graduated with a BA from Wesleyan University in 2011, where he majored in American studies and French studies. He then moved to New York, where he worked as an assistant to photographer Joel Meyerowitz and at the fine-art printing studio Griffin Editions. Durst is currently pursuing an MFA in photography at the Yale School of Art.