Wednesday, 15 May 2013

The Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2013













It is a year since The Photographers’ Gallery re-opened its extended building in Ramillies Street last May. 




And time again for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2013, awarded for a body of work rather than a single picture. The gallery showcases the work of the four semi-finalists:  Mishka Henner, Broomberg & Chanarin, Chris Killip, and Cristina De Middel. 

The prize is £30,000 for the winning photographer. And the result is announced on Monday 10 June.


Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin
War Primer 2
Photographs of war and its aftermath, combined with 4-line stanzas in homage to Bertolt Brecht’s own photo essay, his War Primer of WW2 published in 1955. In their own war images, Broomberg & Chanarin use digital and analogue media; their avowed intention is to court no reaction. Thus they present us with horror in a simple, understated, wysiwyg manner that allows us to face it; to examine it and to ponder it anew. 


No. 12, ‘Dead Man Against a Wall’, is the record of an apparently retaliative act committed by US forces in an Iraqi suburb which killed more than a dozen people, including 2 Reuters’ news staff. Broomberg and Chanarin’s photograph is of a boy who has just  been shot, the light just gone from his eyes. 

The epigram reads:


“And so we put him up against a wall.
A mother’s son, a man like we had been
and shot him dead. And then to show you all
What came of him, we photographed the scene.”


It is routine US army procedure after battlefield death to strip the corpse and check for identifying tattoos. As well as a lot of his blood, the photograph shows the soldiers scanning his iris and his fingerprints using an army issue biometric scanner. 



Mishka Henner
No Man’s Land
They look as if they might be travel photos but they’re not. The artist used Google Street View and partnered the pics with “information sourced from Internet forums used by men discussing the remote location of sex workers”. A classic coupling, using a technique employed so masterfully by Stephen King* of getting your story by combining two unrelated ideas.


The submission’s subtitle is “Road Movie” and the locations are the soulless stretches of motorway and elevated sections that spread all over the fair lands of southern Spain and Italy. I knew the Italy of the Adriatic coast as a student and, well, it looks like the road makers have grown rich and the people poor.

* On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2001), Stephen King, Hodder and Stoughton.


And there are the girls, scantily (but decently) clad, in high heels and with mobiles, no doubt giving directions as they ply their ancient trade along the badlands of the Abruzzi. And my goodness, yes, here is a vehicle taking a sharp swerve onto the hard shoulder that you can almost hear. 


In another picture, two girls (on these lonely stretches of road, it is often two girls working together) stand under the unlovely concrete support columns of an elevated section. Someone has stuck posters on the columns in an attempt to cover up the grey. This is Foggia. Signs at the crossroads say Adriatica, Ascoli.


In Spain, two girls have made themselves a little bower among the roadside plants (scrub and tall grasses) where they wait for passing vehicles. Along the road, another girl positions herself on the STOP sign painted on the road. At one particularly soulless Spanish junction, yet another girl sits beneath a sun umbrella. She can’t be missed. 



 

Chris Killip
What Happened – Great Britain
Killip calls himself ‘by default the chronicler of the De-Industrial Revolution in Britain’. In some ways, Killip does the same thing as Henner, catalogues what happens when you push aside nature and community and install Tarmac (Henner) and concrete (Killip – see Killingworth New Town, Tyneside). 


This submission covers the Britain of the 1970s: the fortunes of the Swan Hunter shipyard on the Tyne, the unemployment, the people eking out a living mending (crab) nets and gathering sea coal. 

Killip’s work includes a haunting picture of a wall of baked beans (18½p for a 15oz tin) in a local supermarket. A man pisses against a wall with “true love” white-chalked onto the brick. A fully grown man sits in the pose of a boy, legs dangling, on a high wall (the artist calls the work “Torso”). We see neither the face nor the upper body; we wonder about the man’s state of mind.
 

So, after war, unemployment and transactional sex, we need a bit of well-handled fantasy. Here it is.


Cristina De Middel
The Afronauts
The concept here is wonderful. You take an earthling and you give him a jazzy space suit, including a big, bubble-like space helmet (see pic).

Cristina De Middel
Untitled, from the series The Afronauts, 2011 30 x 30 cm
© Cristina De Middel
Courtesy of the artist






















The men are African. The space suit fabric references African folk prints. This is an elaborate and elaborated story of an African space mission in 1965. It is one year after Zambian independence and in March 1965 the first Russian space flight took place, followed in June by the first American space flight. You can tell what the Zambians were thinking. Lusaka was abuzz with “we can do this”. 


It is all admirably portrayed by De Middel. It is fun but it doesn’t try to poke fun. The picture of a Zambian astronaut in training dutifully getting fit by striding up an incline with what looks like a picnic basket with white plastic tubing (the oxygen) coming out of it and into the back of his helmet, is both affectionate and entirely believable.

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