The Deutsche Börse Prize was established in 1996, and is an annual prize that celebrates the best in photography. It is one of the largest art prizes in the UK, proving a pivotal point in many photographers’ careers.
I had the great opportunity to go along to the Photographers’ Gallery in London, where the four nominees’ works are being displayed. The exhibition allows anyone interested to come and look at each photographer’s individual work and to compare the four different bodies of work within one exhibition.
Because this is a group show, there is a wide range of different work, looking at a range of issues and ideas; even though each work is different from the next, I feel that the exhibition has been put together well. The spacing and separation of each different photographer’s work, either by a separate room or plenty of spacing on the wall, allows the viewers to see each work separately, without confusing two photographers’ work.
Each body of work by a photographer is accompanied by a bit of text explaining about the work being viewed and the photographer; this gives the viewer not only context, but it also further helps the separation and distinction between each body of work. Personally I feel, that even though the photographers are showing four different ideas and themes, they work together due to the context of the show, as it is showing the nominees for The Deutsche Börse Prize, and so therefore offers the viewers a chance to see all four nominees work in one place easily, so as an individual each viewer can make up their own mind as to who they think should win the prize.
Each photographer is rightfully there and deserves to be a nominee; the different bodies of work are wide and look at completely different ideas, yet they all show creativity in their own way.
Alberto García-Alix, nominated for his publication Autorretrato/Self-portrait, displays a range of black and white photographs from his book. These photographs offer the viewer an insight into García-Alix’s life over the last four years, looking at both intimacy and excess; these photographs are often very raw and harsh, showing the realities of the photographer’s life, the good and the bad. Alberto García-Alix often takes self-portraits and this can be seen in this body of work, when he does not have a model he uses himself; to me this makes his work more personal and believable, he is aiming to show his life over the last four years and I feel that by having a model portray this, his photographs would become staged and forced. The photographer is shown naked, literally and metaphorically, shooting up heroin and other intimate scenes from his life, he’s very involved in his images, so the fact that he appears or not is irrelevant to our eyes, the whole body can be seen as one big self-portrait showing the photographer’s life.
Because these photographs are so raw and intimate, I feel that Alberto García-Alix can be seen as quite a confident photographer, he is comfortable with his body and showing the viewer his lifestyle even though it is not the cleanest. Some of the issues highlighted would often be seen as quite personal and something you’d keep to yourself; however Alberto García-Alix is brave and faces his realities of life by showing the viewer the truth of his lifestyle and not shying away from the facts.
The work in this exhibition shows only a small proportion of Alberto García-Alix’s work, to me this gives the viewer a slight insight into the photographer’s world, giving the viewer enough information on the photographer, but also leaving part of his life a mystery to be further explored by viewing the rest of his work. Due to the nature of the work being very intimate, I feel that the exhibition does not need to show the whole body of work, and that offering just a slight insight offers the viewer a sneak peek into this intimate world.
This video shows Alberto García-Alix talking about his work; it offers greater insight into what he was thinking and how he uses photography:
The photographs of empty spaces, such as his room, show the loneliness and solitude in his life at the time in the empty rooms; by him not being in the photographs this loneliness is emphasised as the photographs are completely bare of human presence, whereas normally he would be seen in self-portraits. In these photographs there are still hints of his presence and life, with belongings that wouldn’t often be noticed, this photograph allows the viewer to appreciate and spend time looking at the belongings that, if Alberto García-Alix were in the photograph, would often be looked over and not concentrated on.
Jochen Lempert, nominated for his exhibition Jochen Lempert at Hamburger Kunsthalle, displays a range of photographs looking at humans and the natural world. His approach is scientific as he trained as a biologist, working in black and white, his work engages with a diverse range of subjects and genres, ranging from everyday views to abstracted details. Many of the photographs seen in the exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery are very abstract looking at the natural world in a creative way; Lempert combines nature, art and science to form a beautiful body of work.
The photographs are displayed on the walls with no names, however there is an accompanying sheet with names and slight information on each photograph; to me by having no names on the wall, the viewer can first appreciate the work as an art form especially the abstract pieces. The exhibition gives the viewers time to think and explore the work, looking at the shape and patterns; it is only after the viewer reads the name sheet that they are given context to each picture describing what it is, this then allows the viewer to take another reading of the photographs after gaining some knowledge of what it is of.
The displayed photographs are just prints on paper stuck to the wall, there are no frames or mounts, making them very plain, however I feel that they allow the viewer to solely concentrate on the photographs as well as linking to the idea of nature. Lempert has stripped back as much human traces to the photograph as possible making them natural and plain, concentrating on the natural subjects being photographed.
Jochen Lempert talking about his work:
To me this exhibition works well, showing beautiful natural photographs, some of which are abstract; the whole feel the exhibition is very peaceful and contrasts with the work of Alberto García-Alix, which is displayed in the room next to Jochen Lempert. The move from García-Alix’s work to Lempert’s offers the viewer a mental break from the harsh realities of life and looks are the peaceful beauty of nature.
Lorna Simpson was nominated for her exhibition Lorna Simpson (Retrospective) at Jeu de Paume, Paris. Simpson’s work links photography, text, video installations, most recently archival material and found objects. Her work often explores themes of gender, identity, culture, memory and body.
The work displayed in this exhibition uses anonymous images featuring a woman posing for the camera and occasionally a male companion. Simpson also photographed herself doing these poses, and combines them with the archival photographs in a sprawling and unique arrangement across the wall. By combining both the original and copy photographs, Simpson disrupts this idea of original and copy to form one body of work.
The photographs are displayed in small frames, by having smaller prints it means that the viewer has to spend time looking at each photograph individually and close up, this makes the viewing of these photographs very intimate and personal. The viewer can get to know the subject closely and intimately, this works well for this body of work as the photographs themselves are very intimate and personal, showing a woman’s own photographs that she’s posed for as well as poses from the photographer herself. The identity of the woman is unknown and so the viewer has the opportunity to look into her life, an opportunity that would not be there if it were not for these photographs that Simpson found.
The original photographs show a documentation of learning about the camera and an individual’s own body; the woman is posing and can be seen to be documenting her learning of this. The original photographs are from the late 50s in LA, this is the time of Hollywood and films and these poses echo that idea and time period; however as she is a black women, segregation laws at that time may not have offered her that opportunity to model or work in films and so this was her way of compensating for that.
Lorna Simpson talking about her work:
Finally Richard Mosse, nominated for his exhibition The Enclave at Venice Biennale, Irish Pavilion, displays a documentation of a haunting landscape where there has been human tragedy in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo; 5.4 million people have died of war related causes since 1998. The photographs are shot on discontinued military surveillance film, meaning that the resulting imagery registers an invisible spectrum of infrared light, and leave these warzone landscapes in a range of bright hues and colours. These colours make the photographs seem out of this world, as though from a fairytale, everything doesn’t seem real and could be looking at the idea of not facing the realities of the terrible events that happened on these lands.
The photographs explore the natural landscape in a unique way, the colours add a sense of humour to the photographs and lands; this humour could be seen as inappropriate and forgetting of the events and deaths that have occurred here. The colours make the photographs easy to view, whereas if they were more realistic it would show the harsh realities of what has happened; I feel the use of colour softens the blow and makes the images more bearable to take in. At the project’s heart are the points of failure of documentary photography, and its inability to adequately communicate this complex and horrific cycle of violence, this is show by the use of these bright colours as they do not tell the full story of what has happened here and they make a ‘fairytale-like story’ about the events.
However even though these bright colours make the photographs seem to be moving away from the truth behind the suffering and death, the use of military surveillance film, to capture these photographs, brings the viewer back to the reality that this is to do with war.
The photographs of the landscapes are displayed as large prints, they are impressive and vast, echoing the landscapes being captured. Furthermore the largeness of the photographs shows the extent to which this war has affected the land and the people.
A video on Richard Mosse’s work:
Overall this whole exhibition has been great to see, to compare different photographers’ work, all of which are unique, and it offered a great range of ideas by communicating them through the medium of photography. I would recommend anyone who has the opportunity to go visit the Photographers’ Gallery and view the exhibition. This exhibition is to display the work of the four nominees for the Deutsche Börse Prize; I can see why they have all been nominated. However if I were to decide on my favourite body of work, I would choose either Richard Mosse or Alberto García-Alix, both show strong ideas and concepts and portray them in their own unique way. The photographs from both bodies of work are beautiful and creative, I would be happy if any of the four photographers won as they are all deserving, but these two are my favourites.