Best in Show: Valerio Spada’s Book Gomorrah Girl

3 minute read

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.”

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.

From left: The cover of Valerio Spada's self-published photo book Gomorrah Girl, the grand prize winner of 4th annual Blurb Photography Book Now Competition. The book is an artfully made documentary about adolescence in one of the most dangerous places in Italy to grow up. Image right: Rossa (The Red Sail), 9th Floor, Scampia, Naples. Anna, nine years old. Valerio Spada
An inside spread from left: Scampia, Naples. Brother and Sister kissing. Right: Evidence 58, previous evidence shot from a different angle, the arrow indicates the spot where the hole caused by one of the three bullets were detected.Valerio Spada
Scampia, Naples. Young actor, 16 years old, playing with his friend while is six year old sister is watching. Valerio Spada
From left: Vomero, Naples. Giovanna in her bedroom. Right: Evidence 69, detail of the scratch cause by the bullet impact.Valerio Spada
From left: Secondoigliano, Naples. Woman under house arrest. Right: Evidence 44, a panoramic view of a crime scene. Arrows indicate: "A" Iron door reached by three bullets during the gunshot "B" pizzeria "Borgo Antico".Valerio Spada
Forcella, Naples. Annalisa Durante’s necklace around the neck of Giovanni Durante (her father). Since the day she died Giovanni Durante Brings Breakfast with milk at 9 every morning to his daughters grave. Valerio Spada
Mergellina, Napoli. Girl from Secondigliano.Valerio Spada
Sabrina, eleven years old “neomelodic” singer. Girls like her make up to 200,000 euros per year for singing at weddings and other occasions, sometimes as many as 20 per weekend, Camorra is sometime behind this market. For some of the songs, writers have been prosecuted for the pedophilic content in the lyrics. Through some of these songs and ceremonies Camorra’s families send messages to each other. Valerio Spada
From Left: La Vela Rossa (The Red Sail), 9th Floor, Scampia, Naples. Francesca's sister, single mother. Right: Evidence 5, Bullet fragment "PR2" found during the second inspection on the murder scene.Valerio Spada
Main Street between La Vela Rosa (Red Sail) and La Vela Gialla (Yellow Sail), Scampia, Naples. Anna, 9 years old. Valerio Spada
Evidence 18-19, four lead fragments seized by Squadra Mobile on the 03/31/2004, shot from two different angles. Valerio Spada
Polizia Scientifica, Via Medina, 6th floor, Naples. Weapons seized from the Casalesi’s family in Anversa, in the forensic laboratory. Valerio Spada
Excelsior Boxing Gym, Marcianise, Caserta. Italian boxing champion Viviana, 18 years old. Valerio Spada
The travel category winner, judged by Claudia Hinterseer of the Noor agency was from Thomas Michael Alleman's Sunshine & Noir: Photographs from Los Angeles.Thomas Michael Alleman
An inside spread from Thomas Michael Alleman's Sunshine & Noir: Photographs from Los Angeles. From left: Culver City and Downtown.Thomas Michael Alleman
Cover of Promising Land a book by Rene Clement documenting Orange City, Iowa and its Dutch roots. Rene Clement
Inside spread from Rene Clement's Promising Land a book documenting Orange City, Iowa and its Dutch roots. She say's, "I began this project by making a series of portraits in the tradition of the Dutch master painters, drawing upon their use of soft light and stark, black backgrounds."Rene Clement
Inside spread from Rene Clement's Promising Land a book documenting Orange City, Iowa and its Dutch roots.Rene Clement
Cover of Rafal Milach's In The Car with R, which won the documentary category prize.Rafal Milach
An inside spread from Rafal Milach's In The Car with R, which is part of a group project about Iceland, done by Polish photographers from collective Sputnik Photos during 2010. Five Polish photographers and five Icelandic writers have been working together to show their view on contemporary Iceland through personal, individual stories of Icelanders.Rafal Milach
The winner in the fine art category was Rene Nuljens, Yuri Gagarin, 50 Years of Human Space Flight. Rene Nuljens
The first runner-up in the student category is Mandy Barker's SOUP. SOUP is a description given to plastic debris suspended in the sea, and with particular reference to the mass accumulation that exists in an area of the North Pacific Ocean known as the ‘Garbage Patch’. Mandy Barker
An inside spread of Mandy Barker's book SOUP. The artist say's, "The series of images aim to engage with, and stimulate an emotional response in the viewer by combining a contradiction between initial aesthetic attraction and social awareness."Mandy Barker
The winner in the student category was Goseong Choi's book Umma.Goseong Choi
An inside spread showing Before Hospital, 2011 from Goseong Choi's book Umma which documents her grandmother's passing.Goseong Choi
The cover of The Distance Between Us by Christopher Capozziello, was the first runner-up in the documentary category. Christopher Capozziello
Inside spread from The Distance Between Us by Christopher Capozziello. The book documents his brother Nick who suffers from cerebral palsy. He say's, "I have been drawn to photographing him for as long as I have been making pictures. The time I spend with him, looking through my camera, has forced me to ask questions about suffering, and faith and why anyone is born with disease." Christopher Capozziello
Inside spread from The Distance Between Us by Christopher Capozziello. Christopher Capozziello
A portrait of Jackson Mubiru from Yann Gross's book Kitintale, which was second runner-up in the documentary category. Yann Gross
An inside spread from Yann Gross's book Kitintale, which was the second runner-up in the documentary category. Yann Gross
The first runner-up in the travel category was Dimitri Mellos' book Its Strangest Patterns: Photographs of New York. Dimitri Mellos
An inside spread from Dimitri Mellos' book Its Strangest Patterns: Photographs of New York. Dimitri Mellos

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at