Deutsche Börse Photography Prize Visit April 2011

London Study Day 15th April 2011

After the visit to the Museum of London, we went on in the afternoon to the Photographers’ Gallery Ambika P3, the University of Westminster, to see the contenders for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2011. This is an annual prize of £30,000 which rewards a living photographer, of any nationality, who has made the most significant contribution to photography in Europe between 1st October 2009 and 30th September 2010.  I’ve just added a comment to the discussion about the  Study Day on We Are OCA:-

“The Street Photography Exhibition seemed, to me, a straightforward depiction of the evolution of this type of photography.  There was nothing particularly controversial there and I was aware when writing it up for my blog that  I was mainly focussing upon images which had particularly attracted me for a variety of reasons.  Why was nothing there particularly controversial? Maybe due to the selection available in the Museum’s archives or because I have probably already seen some of the modern photographs several times over and become de-sensitised to their impact.

My immediate response to the very different images in the Deutsche Börse Prize was a kind of puzzlement and not being sure what I was supposed to think. Maybe it’s because I was feeling tired by then and also the atmosphere was so different from the Museum of London.  The entry to the Deutsche Börse Prize is at the side of  Westminster University and through a rather grotty outside area before descended in a cavernous space which houses the exhibition.  Jim Goldberg’s multi-dimensional presentation takes up the most space.  Jose describes Goldberg’s embedded stories as compelling and demanding to be heard.  Yes, they are.  There is an immediacy about the polaroids and the writing on them which brings his subjects into the room.  There are so many of them that the voices are loud and compelling.  The ‘rescuer’ in me wanted to know what is happening to these people now and how were they affected by writing something of their story. I found myself questioning Goldberg’s purpose.  Is he just drawing attention and leaving it at that or is he using his photography in an attempt to change what’s happening. Was he turning me into a voyeur of other peoples’ suffering?

There was a startling change awaiting just around the corner. Vivid colour but no depth.  Clever photographers showing off their technical skills and playing around with images or am I being too critical.  Ethridge portrays affluence in Thanksgiving and decay with his rotten fruit (presented beautifully) and homage to Caravaggio. Lassry’s man with shifting eyes reminded me of  Rene Magritte (and also a recent exercise in TAOP on the relationship between points!).  A few of us spent some time pondering over Burmese Cat.  How had this been processed; it looked slightly cartoonish; had Lassry used fractalius software?

Well I’ve read now that The Photographers’ Gallery has had criticisms in previous years for its ‘very narrow definition of photography’.  There’s certainly two extremes here now – from the documentary to the conceptual.  This set me thinking.  Could Ethridge and Lassry carry out the same style and approach as Goldberg and vice versa?  Certainly, John Thomson moved from documenting the lives of the London poor (and writing about them) to being a Society photographer but maybe that’s not such a great leap.  Going back to Jim Goldberg.  I’ve also been wondered whether my criticism of his methods is too harsh. Perhaps I’ve been projecting my anger at what has been done to his subjects onto him because he’s more immediately available.”

I didn’t mention Thomas Demand and his very large photograph of the three-dimensional paper model he constructed of an open air church organ erected in Bavaria in 1939. Apparently his method is to begin with a “found’ photograph and then construct a life-size 3D replica sculpture in paper and card which he lights, rephotographs and then dismantles and destroys.  There is a whole series of such images in his Prize presentation but this is the only one he chose for the London Exhibition which I think is a shame because we are only getting a ‘snapshot’ of his body of work.  It would also have been good to have seen at least a video of the making of the models.

I’ll certainly be interested to see who wins the prize.  I won’t place any bets but I have a feeling it might be Goldberg!

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