The Deutsche Börse Shortlist

I’ve previously written at some length about two of the four photographers shortlisted for the 2008 Deutsche Börse Photography Prize, John Davies and Jacob Holdt. Fazal Sheikh I think I also mentioned when his work was included in the ‘Heroes of Photography‘ feature on ‘PopPhoto‘, which is an excellent introduction to the work of this ‘artist-activist’. I looked at the work of Esko Männikkö when I was revising a piece I wrote on Finnish photography, but in the end decided not to include him.

Esko Männikkö (b1959, Finland) has an impressive record of exhibitions, his Artfacts page starting with a show at White Cube, London in 1998. You can see some installation views of his 2002 “Flora & Fauna” show in Berlin at the Nordenhake archive (Nordenhake is an important art gallery in both Stockholm and Berlin.) There is a good selection of his work on the Galerie Rodolphe Janssen (Brussels) site, along with a chronology and some information (in French.)
One of the things that puts me off his work, is, that as the Photographers’ Gallery states, his work is “shown in assorted wooden frames, found and weathered by time” which they feel give his images “a timeless, almost painterly quality.” Actually they – or at least some of them – are good enough not to need that kind of crap.

Jacob Holdt (b1947, Denmark) has told his own story (and this page avoids the terrible music) at great length. He arrived in the USA from Canada in 1970 with only $40, intending to hitch to Mexico, but instead spent much of the next five years hitching around the USA, staying with anyone who would put him up, mainly the poorest people in the country, and in particular those suffering from racial prejudice.

At some point his family sent him a camera, and though he wasn’t a photographer (and the pictures sometimes gain from his lack of expertise, but at other times I can’t help wish that he had become a better photographer) he began taking pictures of the oppressed people who put him up. Eventually in 1977 he published a book using his and other pictures that exposed the depth of racism and poverty, hoping to use the profits from it to build a hospital in Angola.

When he realised how the KGB intended to use his book as propaganda he withdrew it from sale, and it was only republished after the fall of communism. He also made films using his work, and presented slide-shows at hundreds of campuses across America. His nomination comes with the publication in 2007 of ‘Jacob Holdt, United States 1970-1975‘ by Steidl in Germany.

Fazal Shiekh was born in New York in 1965 and educated at Princetown. His awards over the years include a Fulbright Fellowship, a US National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Photography (1994) and in 1995 a Leica Medal of Excellence, an Infinity Award from ICP, a Mother Jones International Documentary Award and two awards from the ‘Friends of Photography’. In 2003 he won ‘Le Prix Dialogue de l’Humanité‘ at Arles and in 2005 the ‘Henri Cartier-Bresson International Grand Prize‘ and a MacArthur Fellowship.

Sheikh is certainly one of the finest documentary photographers around and you can see a great deal of evidence on his web site. The nomination is for ‘Ladli‘, also published by Stiedl in 2007, which took up from his earlier book ‘Moksha‘, which investigated the mistreatment of widows in India. In Ladli he looks in particular at the problems experience by mothers and daughters in a society where a girl child is a burden, with many being aborted or killed at birth. His site contains a fine on-line version of Ladli.

John Davies (b1949, UK) is a particular favourite of mine, and one of the photographers featured on the Urban Landscape web site I run with Mike Seaborne. You can see a great deal of his work on his web site, but I’d recommend buying his superb book which I reviewed at some length, The British Landscape, 2006 (Chris Boot, London ISBN 095468947X) It would be hard to think of any recent photographer of the urban landscape whose work has been more influential than him.

The jury for the prize is Els Barents, Director of Huis Marseille Foundation for Photography in Amsterdam, photographer Jem Southam, Thomas Weski, Chief Curator of Haus der Kunst in Munich along with Anne-Marie Beckmann, the curator of the Deutsche Börse Art Collection and Brett Rogers of the Photographers Gallery in the Chair. It is good to see a fine photographer, Jem Southam on the panel, and Weski was of course a photographer of some note before becoming a curator.

I’ve not had a great success in picking winners of these (or the previous Citibank) awards. But I’d be particularly happy to see either John Davies or Fazal Shiekh win, because their work is much more central to my idea of photography than that of the other two on the shortlist.

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