Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2014 part III

I remember last year’s DB exhibition and how the arrangement of finalists had affected me, specifically how the impact of one exhibit as it rested by another artist’s work. Probably most affecting was ‘The Afronauts’ by Cristina De Middel next to Bloomberg and Chanarin’s work ‘War Primer 2’.

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

I am equally sure that whilst the emotional response was less for me this year, it must surely have an effect on the viewer to have such disparate work on show in such close proximity when the only contextual touchstone is that they have all been proposed to win a prestigious prize in the photographic calendar. Lorna Simpson’s work reminded me of the discussion that took place at the Thames Valley Group’s previous meeting a couple of day’s earlier. Simpson’s view, in my opinion was very ‘female’ a gendered perspective and singular amongst the other practitioners on view at TPG’s annual show. The earlier discussion raised, amongst other subjects to do with feminism and the arts, whether a view could be determined, or determinedly, feminine. Last year’s solo female’s work (one hopes this isn’t a case of tokenism – perhaps I’ll check previous year’s statistics?) ‘The Afronauts’ wasn’t, I think, a particularly gendered set, but I concede my view may be masked by how I felt about the work as a whole.

 

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

This work didn’t deal with war, as it’s co-companion on the fifth floor Richard Mosse’s work did, the expressed and hidden violence of a land desecrated by men for men; no Lorna’s work was intimate and personal, a look at a life projected through time. Small and needing to viewed at close distance, it had no notion of power, it was a look at how people were with each other, even if the other was, seemingly, the other side of the camera. The subject and the image maker seemed intimately bonded.

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

This quiet conversation with the viewer (quieter still perhaps after the Congo perils of Mosse’s work) in tender monochrome tones allowed the viewer to consider the relationships that existed for women of colour a half century earlier in the West Coast of America and have those thoughts mediated through a lens today. No less deep because of the apparent leif-motif of the production compared to Mosse’s carcinogenic perspective of riotous colour, but no better because of the proximity to it.

And so to Jochen Lempert:

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

Harking back to the recent Thames Valley meeting at which I had decided to air my first attempt at an “Open Work”. This piece had been with me since I created it a month or so earlier – I have written about it here, here and here. I presented these images as I had coded them from a large set of images and I wanted to see if any of the other people present could muster a narrative from them. I have to say that if what I hoped to achieve was even a connection to the image set then I failed; but no matter. The general comment that maybe it was ‘too open’ that I provided no sense of an emotional hook to attach the viewer to, maybe the ‘my narrative’ that I refused to explain was too obscure, or ‘too loose’ to be made liminal for others and that if I had provided, even a sense of a narrative/contextual axis to pivot from it may have worked. I’m not sure, but the experiment taught me some lessons and I am very grateful to the group for indulging me.

And so back to Jochen Lempert’s work. Well the first thing that struck me was the text; there was some and more than I had expected. Whether this was a strategy on behalf of the artist or the gallery I have no idea, but situating text there was. In fact I think the material to accompany this exhibit was considerably greater than any of the other artists, with a handout to title/explain most, if not all the images.

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

And whilst the images on the wall had no title or caption, the viewer was allowed the privilege to consider the printed document and edit their way through the imagery. As a strategy for ‘Open Work’ I found that interesting, the images were numbered – which usually predetermines an order – but there was no other indication as to which way, or indeed order, one should contemplate the works on view. On one hand most of these images had, as a common visual theme, the natural world, they were all monochrome and analogue based. As regards my reaction to them as a whole, as a work with an underlying narrative I couldn’t discern one, even with the text. I do think however that I was maybe looking to deeply, or not deep enough and that I need to do some more research into this to be able to connect in a form that is attractive to me.

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

 

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

 

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Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2014

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

I don’t think I was expecting to be as moved as I was, last year’s exhibition had me quite affected with the Bloomberg and Chanarin exhibit, and whilst I am always going to somewhat cynical about these big prize events, with their association with the marketing effort of some major organization seeking to project its brand, I hadn’t expected to be so moved.

Knowing that the principle reason for attending – the Jochen Lempert piece, resonating as it does with the works of Eco’s ‘Open Works’ was on the fourth floor but I headed one flight higher and viewed two quite extraordinary works: Lorna Simpson’s work ‘Summer 1957 – 2009’ about identity in a large series of monochrome images which complimented the strident colour work of Richard Mosse’s ‘The Enclave’.

I have been aware of Mosse’s work for some time now; it has been featured on WeAreOCA before and has caused controversy there and elsewhere for its approach to documentary photography. Utilizing film that was intended to help reconnaissance aircraft find people it renders the land in a range of hues that seem, at first glance, to prettify it. But moved I was. I will return to the other finalists later in a separate post.

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

Yesterday, at the Thames Valley meeting we discussed feminist art and the discussion ranged into the gendered depiction of ‘view’, for example was there a difference in the way in which women ‘see’ or want to ‘record’ things compared to men. The land in Mosse’s very large digital ‘C’ prints was a very pretty pink, but the land was ‘Male’; scaped by Man for Men. Their appearance in the Pink permitted the viewer to stop and consider what it was that might be happening in the frame. This, seemingly slow, film projected a land so defiled as to defy imagination – listen to Eve Ensler’s visceral depiction of the same land towards the end of this lecture – it is the desecration of the land and humanity that is so appalling and moving at the same time. The use of outdated film provides another layer, this war is about who controls the land – another trope from yesterday’s discussion – for the wealth that it holds – those rare earths and minerals extracted to enable the digital revolution to continue on it’s inexorable course – with iPhones and Androids, allowing a the distance learner the ability to participate, but also to contribute to the vision before them on the top floor.

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

The size of these prints is impressive, but I felt drawn into them to look and search for humanity, for some semblance of life amongst the horror of the sharp end of neo-liberalism, and what I found was sadness, waste, loss and a sense of how man has become lost in the land scaped by Men who are absent from the frame and live a long way away.

Photograph courtesy The Photographer's Gallery

Photograph courtesy The Photographer’s Gallery

It is a virtuoso piece. Quite brilliant. Quite empty and quite emptying.