September 1, 2011 10:04 AM EDT

Blurb, the self-publishing giant, and sponsor of the Photography Book Now, announced the competition’s $25,000 Grand Prize winner today—Italian photographer Valerio Spada for Gomorrah Girl. The book, which lead judge Darius Himes, assistant director of Fraenkel Gallery and co-founder of Radius Books, described as compelling, explores the murder of Naples resident Annalisa Durante, a young woman caught in the crossfire of violence in “the land of Camorrah,” (the name for the Mafia in Naples).

Gomorrah Girl shows the problems of becoming a woman in a dangerous, crime-ridden area,” says Spada, who studied in Milan and has worked as a fashion photographer. “At age 9 they make themselves up as TV personalities and dream of becoming one of them. At age 13 or 14 they often become mothers, skipping the adolescence which is lived fully everywhere else in Italy.”

The story comes together in the books innovative design—Spada’s own documentary photographs, along with a smaller book of photographs detailing the police investigation, are bound together. Captions offer details into the personal tragedies suffered by the subjects alongside stone-cold factual information provided by police evidence. “At first glance, Gomorrah Girl may seem to be an unassuming even haphazard book,” says Larissa Leclair, a photography curator/writer and a judge in this year’s contest, “but as each page unfolds, the viewer is challenged by layers of meaning.”

“This is a moving book of photographs and documents that one wants to return to repeatedly,” says Himes, describing what made the book a winner.

Spada, whose early forays into self-publishing involved a short-lived periodical Cross Magazine, says the book’s design, which he worked on with Sybren Kuiper, was the result of circumstance. He had wanted to take pictures of the original murder evidence, but the Italian police denied him permission. Handing over photographs of the crime scenes, “the police told me, ‘If you want, you can take pictures of the pictures.’ I remember I was depressed, thinking, ‘I cannot get what I want,'” says Spada, “But I shot every single page. And while I was shooting, all was clear once again. This had to be a book within a book.”

Over the last five seasons of Mad Men, we have watched Elisabeth Moss' Peggy Olson go from apologizing to Don Draper to sitting in his chair. Surprised by her initial success as a copywriter, Peggy slowly grew into her talent, eventually realizing that Don's approval wasn't everything and demanding that she be respected for her work. More than any other character on the show, Peggy has grown and changed, and on April 13—when the seventh and final season premieres—she will adjust to finally being in a position of real power. In this week's New York Magazine cover story on actress Elisabeth Moss, Willa Paskin teases that this final season of Mad Men will be as much about Peggy as it will be about Don. She posits that Peggy, after all, has been the secret protagonist of the show all along. And while Mad Men has quickly addressed and then dismissed many issues of the 1960s—from race relations to hippies—it has consistently addressed the issue of feminism through Peggy and Joan's struggle to move up the corporate ladder. And of the two, Peggy has become the feminist icon, working tirelessly for her spot at the top. Long before Lean In hit bookshelves, Peggy was already demonstrating its principles, for better or worse. Paskin writes of Peggy: TV has many ambitious women, but Peggy stands out among them for navigating a working world—with glass ceilings, boys’ clubs, and take-me-seriously work clothes—that feels, despite its period detail, remarkably contemporary. Peggy is “the one we relate to, the one that’s us,” Moss says, and the legions of essays and blog posts and tweets celebrating her extraordinary ability to lean in are proof of her connection to the audience. (Peggy Olson is easily the most GIF-ed feminist icon of all time.)" But why is Peggy so damn relatable? Maybe it's because she's crusading for a different kind of feminism than we would expect in her 1960s setting. When the fifth season of Mad Men began last year, Elisabeth Moss told Vulture: [Peggy] is not going to be a hippie, she's not gonna start burning bras. She's a different kind of feminist. She's the one who works really hard, and concentrates on her job, and wants to move up in the world of her business. And her progressiveness and her brand of feminism — it comes in probably a bit of a more realistic way, you know? Those were the women — there were more of those women than were the hippies who burned bras and picketed. Those women were the ones who were actually, you know, going in and asking for equal pay, and asking for equal rights, and demanding to be treated better in the workplace. That's who she is." Relatablity is the key. Watching Peggy, working women see their own fight for respect in the office. She works twice as hard as her boozy compatriots. She's beautiful in the girl-next-door kind of way, but refuses to use her looks as a means of advancement like her colleague Joan is wont to do. She makes mistakes: she's stubborn; she falls in love with her boss; she sometimes doesn't play nicely. And slowly but surely her confidence grows until she can challenge her own mentor. But she's also a little bit unlikable. She takes things more seriously than her colleagues. She turns off her superiors and clients by sticking to her ideas and refusing to woo them with sex appeal. She doesn't have the best taste in guys: she's had affairs with three coworkers and dated some real schlubs. Rather than struggling with splitting the burdens of work and family—a favorite topic among today's feminists—she simply denies and then forgets that she's had a child, choosing to forge ahead with her career instead. [caption id="attachment_18915" align="alignnone" width="300"] Jessica Brooks—AMC[/caption] But her beauty lies in her refusal to fit into a box. Sure, her clothes have gotten better, and she's gotten more adventurous. But she's definitively not the girl Joan or Don or anyone else wanted her to be. She's a testament to the fact that you don't have to lean in or out, be less bossy or more bossy, be charming or asexual. You can just be the best you. While the struggle to go from disposable secretary to young powerhouse may not be as daunting as it was in the Mad Men era, it's no cakewalk nowadays either. As Sheryl Sandberg and Anna Maria Chávez pointed out in the Wall Street Journal this weekend, ambitious women today are as likely to be dubbed by underlings and colleagues as "bossy" as Peggy is on the show. Her struggle is our struggle. And just as Peggy inspired Mad Men's audience, she surely also inspired other shows to write in strong female characters who are good at their jobs. Before there was Virginia on Masters of Sex or Elizabeth on The Americans or even Moss' detective on Top of the Lake, there was Peggy. So yes, of course Peggy has been the secret star of Mad Men all along, a hero to Don's anti-hero—his better half. Watch her evolution in this great video, curtesy of Vulture, from 2013.
A New York Magazine profile on Elisabeth Moss reminds us why Peggy Olson is TV's most relatable feminist

The Photography Book Now competition, now in its fourth year, is open to anyone, amateur or professional, as long as the work is self-published.

The winners of Photography Book Now 2011 are:

Grand Prize Winner: Valerio Spada, Gomorrah Girl

Fine Art Category Winner: Rene Nuijens, Yuri Gagarin, 50 Years of Human Space Flight

Documentary Category Winner: Rafal Milach, In The Car With R

Travel Category Winner: Thomas Michael Alleman, Sunshine & Noir

Student Category Winner: Goseong Choi, Umma

Fine Art, First Runner Up: Alexey Vanushkin, A Letter

Documentary, First Runner Up: Christopher Capozziello, The Distance Between Us

Travel, First Runner Up: Dimitri Mellos, It’s Strangest Patterns

Student, First Runner Up: Mandy Barker, Soup

Fine Art, Second Runner Up: René Clement, Promising Land

Documentary, Second Runner Up: Yann Gross, Kitintale

Travel, Second Runner Up: Zoltan Vancso, Ocean of Sighs — Cuba

Student, Second Runner Up: Matthew Avignone, An Unfinished Body

People’s Choice, Fine Art: Zoltan Vancso, Unintended Light

People’s Choice, Documentary: Peter Irmai, Summer Garden

People’s Choice, Travel: Idan Hojman, Along The River

People’s Choice, Student: Ian Waelder, Circus Life

To learn more about the contest, visit here.

Free and open to the public.

The books will be on display Thursday, September 15, from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. at the Aperture Gallery in New York City. RSVP here.

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