2. Deutsche Borse Prize, 24th May, 2014 at the Photographers Gallery, London

After the OCA Study Visit to the Prix Pictet, Vicki and I decided to go to look at the photographs exhibited in the Deutsche Borse Prize (£30,000) which celebrates a contemporary photographer of any nationality who has made the most significant contribution (exhibition or publication) to the medium of photography in Europe in the previous year.

There were four nominees, and information about all of the can be found here , including a video. I was also helped beforehand by posts on WeAreOCA by tutors giving their views on who they thought should win the prize.

Richard Mosse – the Winner

Moshe is a conceptual Documentary photographer and won the prize for his video installation The Enclave commissioned for the Irish Pavilion at Venice Biennial, in 2013. I first wrote about him here when I was experimenting with an infrared converted camera. In his series Infra he had used out dated infrared Kodak Aeorchrome colour film to document the continuing tensions in the democratic Republic of Congo. For Enclave he returned to the Congo with associates to produce the video installation. There is more here from Marco Bohr on Photomonitor and here from Jesse Alexander on WeAreOCA.

Alexander does point out that Mosse isn’t using infrared for the sake of the effect but to subvert what have become clichéd representations of civil and tribal warfare in Africa.These images are so haunting in their surreal colouring and Vicki and I discussed whether we thought this method of documenting a warfare landscape would draw viewers’ attention towards the tragedies of war or whether it would, somehow, neutralise these through ‘beauty’. I’m still not sure. I mentioned the film Avatar in my earlier post and this still comes to mind, yet it had more effect on me in terms of the plundering of natural resources. I’m wondering now if this was because of the fictionalised story and the acting of the characters which allowed one’s imagination to come into play more vividly.

Thoughts on the other three shortlisted artists

Jochen Lempert

Lamprey was nominated for his Exhibition “Jochen Lempert” at Hamburger Kunsthalle in 2013 . He portrays the natural world through black and white photographs and photograms and highlights similarities between humans and animals or “the ephemeral appearance of waves, flocks of birds or volcanic clouds”. I was disappointed at what I saw at the Photographers Gallery though because there was only a small part of the original exhibition and the prints seemed very pale and small. Maybe they were such a contrast after seeing the large and colourful Richard Mosse images. Sharon Boothroyd gave her view here on WeAreOCA  and after reading this again now I realise I must re-visit the images even if only on a monitor. It seems strange but I can only experience their delicacy this way.

Lorna Simpson

Simpson was nominated for her Exhibition “Lorna Simpson (Retrospective)” at Jeu de Paume, Paris in 2013. Her work, “links photography, text, video installations, most recently archival material and found objects” to explore “themes of gender, identity, culture, memory and body”. In his WeAreOCA post Peter Haveland thought that Simpson was well worth the prize because of “her serious contribution to image making, conceptual art, as well as gender, identity and racial discourse over the last thirty years or so”. Again, only a small portion of the work exhibited appeared at The Photographers Gallery and so it would be unfair to judge her on the basis of that alone.

This article on the Jeu de Paume website here  (including a video) provides a more rounded view whilst also offering links to other articles. I think her work is complex and filled with meaning but have to confess that I did find it difficult engage with it at the time. What I remember most is her mixture of self-portraits and older found photographs (obtained via eBay) of a black woman practising poses, where she appears to be making links between them over the years by mimicking both her and a man who appears in those photographs.

Having watched the video now I think I’ve gained a better understanding of the contextual background but still feel puzzled regarding not being able to engage with the work really which is strange because I am currently very interested in combining found photographs with my own. Perhaps this is because I still don’t feel drawn towards self-portraiture and it is this aspect of Simpson’s work that is my difficulty here.

During the writing of this post I also thought back to the book The Fae Richards Photo Archive (Leonard & Dunye, 1996). Leonard (Photographer) and Dunye (Filmaker) created a fictional character Fae Richards, the black actress and singer and used found images as clues to portray her evolving identity, whilst offering her as a ‘homage’ to women whose lives are not recorded. There is no written narrative in the book itself and so, at first sight, it just looks like a collection of photographs of people carrying out various activities. Here  is an installation view of that photographic archive created by Zoe Leonard. I’ve now also found information on a film the Watermelon Woman – a feature film by Cheryl Dunye (and in which she starred) which utilised the archive. This is a great example of the way in which collaboration can produce such a wealth of creativity in different artistic directions. It’s also an example of the way in which my mind can travel off in all directions when sparked off by viewing an Exhibition and then thinking about it afterwards!

Alberto García-Alix

García-Alix has a wider practice of course, but was nominated for his book Autorretrato/Self-Portrait (2013) which features black and white self-portraits made over forty years.

If someone put us in the difficult situation of having to choose only one of the topics dealt with by García-Alix in his work, that which summarizes its totality, that would be the human body. Its flesh, bones, and also the light that hides in its gut. And in the end, inescapably, the fight is bound be a body-to-body between Alberto and the light.” (from his website)

I can’t say more than that really, except I felt sadness to be the observer as he subjects himself to the merciless scrutiny of his camera lens. Is he being so cruel to himself with these continuing self-portraits as we lose the beautiful young man to the elderly one ravaged by time and excess, utilising the impassivity of the camera lens to become a detached observer of his life? Does he care as he continues to regard us with his proud, defiant gaze? Here is one answer

Alberto García-Alix is a survivor of sorts. He appears to have been seduced early on by the glamour and guilt of those who make it through: the ones left to nurse wounds, mourn the fallen and work out what to do with the iconography, and the reality, of living on. Having embraced certain kinds of extremity in his youth, documented his own and his generation’s fervid pursuit of new freedoms in post-Franco Spain and, parlayed his place in that milieu into a status touching on legend, he seems now to look back like a melancholy recording angel, half in love with loss. But the survivor in him wants to insist: we came through.” (Excerpt From: The Photographers’ Gallery. “Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2014.” iBooks.)

6th November 2014

References

Leonard, Z and Dunye, C. (1996)The Fae Richards Photo Archive, Artspace Books, U.S.

http://hamburger-kunsthalle.de/index.php/jochen-lempert.html
http://whitney.org/Collection/ZoeLeonard
http://www.albertogarciaalix.com/en/
http://www.jeudepaume.org/index.php?page=article&idArt=183
http://www.photomonitor.co.uk/2014/07/the-representation-of-war-in-richard-mosses-the-enclave/
http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/apr/10/deutsche-borse-photography-prize-2014
http://www.thephotographersgallery.org.uk/deutsche-b-rse-prize-2014
http://weareoca.com/photography/jochen-lempert/
http://weareoca.com/photography/lorna-simpson/
http://weareoca.com/photography/richard-mosse/

Video

http://thephotographersgalleryblog.org.uk/2014/04/10/deutsche-borse-photography-prize-2014-brett-rogers-director-the-photographers-gallery-on-this-years-nominees/