Getting Shirty

To me a shirt is a shirt, and there is something obscene about the images of boxes of what are presumably perfectly decent and serviceable garments being burnt, shown in the pictures that Florian Joye submitted in his entry for the  Lacoste Elysée Prize.

His was the work which perhaps most explicitly linked to the product, with some of the other submissions for the prize frankly performing purely linguistic tricks to link their work to the polo shirt concerned, although a few crocodiles – apparently the nickname of the tennis player after whom the brand is named, and its symbol- do make an appearance, along with the odd tennis court.

But in all the competition still left me with what I consider important questions about the shirts unanswered. Perhaps if I searched on the web site I could find out where the shirts are produced, by who and under what conditions?

The 12 entrants for the prize – Ueli Alder (Switzerland), Kristoffer Axén (Sweden), Benjamin Beker (Serbia), Jen Davis (United States), Florian Joye (Switzerland), Kalle Kataila (Finland), Di Liu (China), Richard Mosse (Ireland), Camila Rodrigo Graña (Peru), Geoffrey H Short (New-Zealand), Tereza Vlcková (Czech Republic) and Liu XiaoFang (China) – were chosen from 80 young photographers taking part in the exhibition reGeneration2: Tomorrow’s Photographers Today, curated by William A. Ewing and Nathalie Herschdorfer, which was at the Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne in June-Sept 2010.

Each of the 12 selected was given a scholarship of 3000 Swiss Francs (just under £2000) and 3 months to create 3 pictures with a link to the code name of the apparently famous shirt (which of course I’ve never heard of.) The winner, Di Liu, gets the prize of 20,000 CHF, around £12,900. This was the first of what will be an annual competition.

Although I think his work – like the rest –  is somewhat trivial, I think Di Liu deserves the prize, for being the only one of the twelve with a sense of humour and for not including a crocodile in the three distorted animals – a rhino, rabbit and deer – that he plonked down in urban environments.

You can see the work of all 12 photographers on the official web site, one of those annoying web designs that insists on inappropriately enlarging my browser window to fill the whole screen.

Looking at the work, it seems to me that the concept of the prize has resulted in some rather mediocre work, which in a way I find encouraging. The idea of a huge pool of creative talent being harnessed essentially to market a rather ordinary shirt with a peculiar logo doesn’t fit with my ideas of what art or photography should be concerned with. Perhaps in future years Lacoste can be persuaded to a less stultifying approach, supporting creative photography rather than encouraging a kind of second-rate advertising. Some other commercial organisations that sponsor prizes have done it rather better.

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