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Photographer wins award for project on Rwandan genocide and mental health

A photographer has won an award for her proposal to document survivors of the Rwanda genocide who are receiving therapy.

Image copyright Rebecca Vassie Award

Chrystal Ding, (above), is the third winner of the Rebecca Vassie Memorial Award, which was set up to honour the late photojournalist.

The award was set up in 2016 to help early-to-mid career photographers, funding a project which "focuses on human stories with a social or political context".

Ms Ding won the £2,000 prize for her proposal to create portraits of survivors of the Rwandan genocide, as well as their therapists, along with commentary in the form of letters from survivors to the people supporting them.

During 100 days in 1994, Hutu extremists killed about 800,000 people, as they set out to exterminate Rwanda's minority Tutsi community - as well as their political opponents, irrespective of ethnic origin.

The title of Ms Ding's winning project is Attention Must Be Paid (taken from the play Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller).

The photographer believes that society must pay attention to those who suffer, and also to the healing qualities of the attention received in therapy.

Ms Ding describes the project as a "personal and challenging" endeavour. She will work with charities supporting recovery programmes for Rwandans who were in their infancy during the genocide. "I can't wait to get started," she said.

Her proposal mirrors another project by Ms Ding which reflects her own experience of therapy, as seen in an image below entitled Dear Mum.

Image copyright Chrystal Ding
Image caption Chrystal Ding's photo called Dear Mum

Ms Ding studied photojournalism and documentary photography at the London College of Communication, and was awarded the bursary partly on the strength of her previous portrait work, (below).

Image copyright Chrystal Ding
Image caption Lucas, from Chrystal Ding's project Genetopia
Image copyright Chrystal Ding
Image caption An image entitled Modern Family
Image copyright Chrystal Ding
Image caption A portrait of Y M Goh

Rebecca Vassie was an international photojournalist who moved to Uganda for her work. Her photos were published in The Guardian and The Washington Post, and she worked on longer projects with Uganda's transgender community and Olympic hopefuls.

She died in 2015 at the age of 30 from complications related to an asthma attack she suffered while documenting a refugee community.

Rebecca's mother, Janet Vassie, and Rebecca's sister, Kelly Vassie, judged this year's award alongside curators Melanie Hough and Jennifer Thatcher, photographer Ben Bird and BBC News' Matthew Tucker.

Kelly Vassie said: "We're very excited about Chrystal's work, and we're especially pleased to support a project in East Africa, where my sister lived and worked for the last three years of her life."

Last year's winner, Kirsty Mackay, is currently completing a project which explores the Glasgow effect, a term often used to describe the disparity in health and life expectancy in the city.

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