Deutsche-Borse Prize 2014 exhibition at The Photographer’s Gallery, London

This is an annual competition and since it shows some of the best in photography, I consider it worth seeing. The prize is actually awarded to the ‘contemporary artist who in the view of the jury made the most significant contribution to photography in Europe in the previous year” and is a good indication of the constantly shifting identity of photography in an image saturated age.
sign downstairs outside the lift

sign downstairs outside the lift

The sponsors are The Deutsche Borse Group, one of the world’s largest stock exchange organisations, who say “The perspectives of the artists and photographers enrich our view of the world, but also presents us with a challenge. Their work requires us to adopt a different view, while at the same time conveying values such as creativity and precision, as well as tolerance, bravery and openess.”
Although there is an ebook of the catalogue, I can not find it online and so purchase the hard copy which is A4 sized, largely white on the cover and bound by what feels likely a piece of sticking plaster. Perhaps this is making some kind of comment!? I am unaware of exactly what though it feels nice to the touch.
One characteristic of the selection of four photographers this year is that three are working in black and white while the other is working with infrared film so there are no straight colour photographs in the exhibition. Has this happened by coincidence or is it the result of a decision by the judges. Although black and white photography continues as a photographic genre there does not seem to be any current resurgence in the medium; the images are also all made with film which is still being used in what might be termed art photography.
Deutsche-Borse@ photographer's Gallery-20140524-London-_MG_9683
I attend a guided tour by a woman from The Photographer’s Gallery; her comments form a basis for my notes which however also contain my views. In the end, I went aound the exhibition twice, with the guided tour that included about 50 people and afterwarrds by myself, edging through the saturday afternoon throng.
Richard Mosse's work downstairs on the digital screen

Richard Mosse’s work downstairs on the digital screen

The first work I saw was by Richard Mosse who used Kodak Aerochrome infrared film that was formerly employed by the US military to detect camoflague in the landscape of war. Mosse’s images are not just about landscape, they picture the soldiers who are part of the conflict. Much of the images have a reddish tinge which reminds one of bloodshed although when Mosse began to use this medium, he was not sure in exactly what way the film would handle.
The work covers war in Congo, a conflict that has been under reported; the photographer is therefore bringing new information about a war that is largely concerned with mineral rights.
A question that hangs over these images is that they have a sense of the sublime and might be called beautiful; should war be presented perhaps glamourised in this way. Susan Sontag is cited by Christy Lange in her write up of this work … “The idea (of beauty and the sublime) does sit well when applied to images taken by cameras; to find beauty in war seems heartless. But the landscape of devastation is still a landscape. There is beauty in ruins.”
Mosse, a former journalist who took to photography, is cutting a fine line. He has also made some video but this was not on show at The Photographer’s Gallery owing to lack of space since a number of screens were required.
Mosse was voted the winner, a pretty obvious choice perhaps since these are powerful images and a remarkable document of war; captions providethe necessary information while the large format film gives incredible detail.
Deutsche-Borse@ photographer's Gallery-20140524-London-_MG_9685
Lorna Simpson presents an array of images in which she presents a collection of “found” images that she bought from another Afro-American woman who was at on time an aspiring fim actress and had posed many times presumably with a view to promotoing herself. Simpson has made images of herself, adopting similar poses and finding similar locations. This is complex work and of it the catalogue says, “While drawing attention to important issues such as race, gender and memory, she creates a non-linear, open narrative that eludes any monolithic rhetorical reading of the work.” She is using portraiture and the candid snapshot in a very personal approach that is private and clinical; often, one is not sure what one is looking at since it is half about herself, half historical.
Deutsche-Borse@ photographer's Gallery-20140524-London-_MG_9691
While the other photographers have all been nominated for exhibtioms, Alberto Garcia-Alix was selected for his book Self Portrait (La Fabrica Editorial 2013) which covers 40 years of his life. I do not enjoy this work! The photographer says “I know that fear will always be the soul of the mask behind which I show myself”; perhaps something has been lost in translation yet the encouraging self inquiry is hindered by narcissism and the decay of youth. One image titled ” My first night in Italy,1986″ sees him naked from the waist up with a woman to each side in adoring poses although he seems to be ignoring them as he looks directly towards the camera. There is evidence of drug taking since he is seen in “Self-portrait shooting up” (1984) although the syringe is cleverly just excluded from the frame.
A direct self portrait of his naked torso in “My femninine side, 2003” is given a sinster touch by his holding a chain which suggests bondage.
However, one image of him as clearly older is “A moment of eternal silence 2010” in which there is a sense that he has survived all his apparent ordeals (apparent because they might have been staged) and emerged wiser for it.
The exhibition is helped by good quality black and white photographs of himself printed more or less life size. There are obvious echoes of Mapplethorpe and those photographers who seem to emulate him but there is a personal touch here that relates to individual experience.
explaining work by Jochen Lampert

explaining work by Jochen Lampert

The photographer who I wanted to win, not because I thought he was the best but because he is making nature photography into an art, was Jochen Lempert. He seems to be both exploring and celebrating nature.
One of his diptychs is of the Belladonna plant with fruit showing by which is an image of a squirrel; the interesting point here is that poisonous fruit and the eye of the squirrel look almost exactly the same. There is however no caption at hand to explain this, the explanation coming from the guide; the explanation is however given in the catalogue.
There is a photogram of sand in which higher contrast does play a part; it can get sharper as one gets closer and one may well ask oneself what one looking at?
One photograph shows a Mallard encircled by fish; there is an atmosphere of menace yet the fish are presumably harmless and look like goldfish. The Mallard, a duck, could easily fly off if felt threatened.
Obviously, the photographer wants us to contemplate his work rather than be instantaneously gratified; this is a construct I am happy to comply with.
There is another image of a small group of swans; there are three almost identical images in this series.
This black and white work is quite simple and low contrast. This is distinctly analogue work, direct and engaging in it’s contact with the photograph print which are laid in glass top tables as well as being blu tacked to walls. The background can be described as forensic yet the subjects are poetic. There is a soft ethereal quality.
This is as usual a rewarding exhibition and afterwards while sitting in the Photographer’s Gallery cafe, a young woman comes up and introduces herself as a fellow student from the OCA. I follow her blog and recently read her review of a book by Charlotte Cotton on the photograph as art which I had also read while doing my first course. We talk about nature photography and it’s lack of recognition as art and she mentions something that an OCA tutor said about so much nature photography not being art because it merely objectifies nature and fails to make it subjective as Lampert has done. This is a valuable insight and helps me to understand my lingering question of why nature photography is not considered art, a question I have been wrestling with for years and is one reason I study photography!
A rewarding end to an important exhibition.
Reading Station - part of the journey home after I take a wrong train from Paddington

Reading Station – part of the journey home after I take a wrong train from Paddington

 

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CONSUMPTION Prix Pictet at the V&A May 2014

The Prix Pictet is an exhibition that has been running since 2008; it is concerned with the global environment and sustainability.

Previous topics have included water, earth, growth, power while this year the topic is consumption. Portfolios of these exhibitions are available as books in the V&A shop but not the present one for some reason; a member of staff informs me it is because the exhibition is only on for a short time but if this is the case, why do they have  so many of the previous catalogues? It looks as though the catalogue is not yet ready for distribution.

The subject of Consumption relates to the fact we are all consumers and this has a huge impact on the world around us. Text at the entrance to the exhibition informs us “We have built vast empires based on luxury goods, creating demand for essentials that we didn’t know we needed. We have sustained this through the sometimes thoughtless exploitation of the world’s poorest people.”
Entrance to the Consumption exhibition

Entrance to the Consumption exhibition

The exhibition space near the entrance to the Museum is a large hall around which the work of 11 exhibitors is displayed. One can walk around the displays in a few minutes but as often with good photography, a little time spent lingering over images and reading captions if available can be worthwhile. Many of the entrants are well known photographers and this is a good chance to see their work printed large rather than squeezed into a publication.
The competition is not one that asks people to enter rather there were 275 nominators from 66 countries and six continents who put forward over 700 photographers; from these, 11 photographers from nine countries were shortlisted.
The winner is Michael Schmidt presumably because his images are closest to the subject; he is one of the older photographers being nearly 70 who died shortly after his success was announced. Of his working method, he says “I stroll straight into a cul-de-sac and can’t find a way out. Then I come to terms with this as a sort of condition and at some point later on, I’m back on the outside again. (…) That is to say, failure or making mistakes is an integral part of my way of working.”
A display that runs along and up the wall of one part of the exhibition space, contains a barrage of images that convey the message; we see a wrapped lettuce photographed in all its’ detail while other images are more abstract and some photos are appropriated. It is an original take on the brief, a different way of looking at Consumption and a clever use of imagery although on narrative is apparent. There is a box of tomatoes in green, baked beans looking like fish spawn, a pair of beef burgers in gaps etc These are images that tend not to stand alone; they remind one of Parr’s work but without context; it is en masse that their meaning is felt.
The first images one encountered on entering were the clear cut images of Adam Bartos, an American, who has made up close photographs of everyday objects that were being sold in makeshift markets (hence the title of this series “Yard Sales”). This serves to “recycle essential household goods and clothing within local communities, significantly extend the life of objects, help to regulate overconsumption, and reduce waste” unlike chains of commercial stores such as Walmart.
One of the female photographers is Laurie Simmons who has made photos of a life sized “love doll” along with a deluge of pretty bric a brac, a rather gross example of consumption; someone comments that it is not her best work. OCA tutor Clive White remarks with a laugh that if a male tried to do this he would not be allowed owing to current debate; this of course gives me an idea to do something with a sex doll.
There is a series by Rineke Dijkstra who shows an immigrant woman from Bosnia starting with a photograph of her as a young girl of five years old newly arrived in Holland and finishing with her as a woman of almost twenty holding her own baby. These images, characteristic of the photographer, are immaculately crafted, well composed and show all the detail present yet one wonders why this series has been selected although if captions were shown they might help to convey the sense of how quickly a girl is born, grows up and goes on to produce another. This series is called Almerisa after the female depicted. The writer on photography, Sean O’Hagan, suggested against the odds that she might be the winner but that it usually goes to a man; I was unsure about the link between this work and the prize’s topic of Consumption although I did think they were perhaps the best set of photographs.
Allan Sekula is a writer about photography who died in 2013; it is interesting to see his images for a change. Called Fish Story, these document the shipping of containers around the world from the last unionised shipyard in Los Angeles; “Movies are made here, but otherwise the industrial appearance of the port is misleading.” It is the kind of documentary style that one recognises and might feel comfortable with. There is an image of a billboard featuring a glamorous woman tilted above a burning building to which a fireman attends with a hose yet Sekulla’s imagery does vary in intent with others having a more physical presence such as the boat full of containers heading out across the sea. There are photographs focussing on things and photographs more concerned with meanings.
Hong Hao is a Chinese photographer, born there in 1965 and also working there. My things shows an array of objects from Beijing, China; a fascinating image partly owing to it’s complexity yet the objects have all been composited with a sense of artistry. Of his work, the artist says “a project that I started from 2001, is a photography series created by scanning objects. I’ve been working on this project for 12 years. Twelve years, in Chinese traditional concept, represents the period of transmigration in cycles of different fate and destiny. The process of producing works of this series is an assignment associated with one’s life trace. Day by day, I put my daily consumed objects into a scanner piece by piece, like keeping a visual diary. After scanning the original objects, I’ll save them in digital forms and categorise these digital files into different folders in my PC, in order to make a collage of them later on.” These images are not mere collections and there are surprises such as a fist poopping out in My Things No.1. The method is scanning of consumed objects is followed by Photoshopping them together and is concerned with the minutae of everyday life and our need to question it.
Motoyuki Daifu photographs the consumable objects in his home. There is noticeable use of flash (over-exposed foreground with occasional shadow) makes one wonder if is a conscious comment or merely naieve? These distortions could be edited out so one might assume their inclusion is some kind of statement. This work centres around the family home and shows characteristic Japanese chaos which is quite different from the more formal approach of American photographers such as Stephen Shore. The artist says of this work, “My mother sleeps every day. My dad does chores. My brothers fight. There are trash bags all over the place. Half-eaten dinners, cat poop, mountains of clothes: this is my lovable daily life, and a loveable Japan.”
Abraham Oghobase, a Nigerian, presents photographs of street walls with graffiti adverts on them. These are roughly constructed black and white images in keeping with the bare brick walls they picture and the graffiti upon them that covers subjects such as sex, laundry, cars and piano lessons. of this display, the photographer says … “My engagement with one such wall of ‘classifieds’ serves to question the effectiveness of such guerilla marketing.”
Juan Fernando Herran is a Columbian who presents high resolution images of commonplace building such as a plank bridge over a muddy dyke and other similar constructions. The artist (he is an art professor who works with different media) asks “What happens when there are groups of people that hardly participate in the consumer society? How do you live in the contemporary world when excluded from one of the concepts that underlie it?”The work of  Mishka Henner is presented as large prints made from high resolution Google images; in reproduction they look like a 3D model. It is very convincing with an “art” appeal, more a creative work than mere representation. Some people object to such work saying Henner should make his own photographs rather than appropriate existent imagery and yet, Henner is making a valid statement about photography as well as commenting on modern society. The following concerns the main image on show … “In certain parts of the USA, the country’s unquenchable thirst for oil has altered the landscape beyond recognition. Natural features are supplanted by man-made marks and structures reflecting the complex infrastructural logic of oil exploration, extraction and distribution. Resembling the bold brush strokes of abstract expressionists, these marks are produced by the hand of an industry striving to satisfy a national and international compulsion.”
The final entrant Boris Mikhailov amuses me with his bawdiness (there are a few naked bottoms on show if one cares to look for them) and yet original and direct coverage of his home town in the Ukraine; the body of work here is called “Tea Coffee Cappucino” about the onset of the modern world in his town; he says “I choose to focus on ordinary, everyday scenes and the search of formal solutions to translate this monotony into photography. These are photos I took over the last ten years (2000-2010) about the current state of affairs. I continue my search for a photographic means to reflect the changes occurring in our lives. A new age has come – the age of business. Everything can be bought and sold – even children. Old women have started wheeling around trolleys full of their commodities, calling out “Tea, Coffee, Cappuccino”, the ‘preambulatory product’ of the age, also provided the title of this series. The reality of globalisation has come and extended to the places where we live and rest. A flux of cheap commodities has conquered ubiquitously, creating a colourful new plastic reality.” In spite of the lurid nature of many of these images, I can not help but like this humorous approach to the vicissitudes of modern life.
Around the hall , broken up by partition walls, there are aphorisms written on the walls … one by Samuel Beckett is “Our life is a succession of Paradises successively denied”
While researching and writing about this exhibition, I wonder who has written the captions where included and other accompanying texts since reading them is bound to influence our reading of the photographs.I went into this exhibition largely blind reading only the brief write up on the V&A website although I did have previous knowledge of the competition and it’s aims which seem in accordance with the contemporary world.
students and tutors @ OCA restaurant

students and tutors @ OCA restaurant

After seeing the exhibition, the OCA group with tutor Clive White and Daniella his wife, decamp to the V&A restaurant to discuss the work we have seen and photography in general. What criteria exists for judging these photographs changes? Whatever they are, they are likely to change.Is the photography of everyday life making a comeback?
Clive reminds us what these days are largely about … producing a meaty blog for assessment of work; of course, they also can help one to digest what is on show and absorb more of what the medium of photography means.
a wider view of OCA students with Clive White, standing centre!

a wider view of OCA students with Clive White, standing and facing far left