Deutsche Börse Prize 2015

For once I have to say I was pleased to hear the result of the Deutsche Börse Prize. Although I wasn’t entirely enchanted with the work of Mikhael Subotzky (b.1981, South Africa) and Patrick Waterhouse (b.1981, UK),  Ponte City was an impressive publication which includes some truly excellent photography, and I felt it stood head and shoulders above the other three short-listed works. Perhaps for once the gap between the winner’s £30,000 and the £3,000 to the runners up which I’ve always thought fundamentally unfair could be justified.

The DBP isn’t of course just about photography, its also a prize on several levels about politics which has often resulted in work which I think has little place in a photography gallery being short-listed and sometimes even winning. Unlike this year, politics has meant it often hasn’t been the best photography that has been successful.

Ponte City is a work that uses photography, but certainly isn’t just photography, but unlike many concepts it has photography at its heart and uses it well. There are some superb images here, and some of the other things – like the series of pamphlets published as a part of the book – are fascinating if not for their photography.

There is still time to see this and the other three sets of work that were short listed as the show continues at the Photographers Gallery until 7 June. I think it says something about the gallery’s fundamental contempt for photography that on the web page about the prize, the images from the four projects are shown as a narrow strip cropped from an image, 720x260pixels, an aspect ratio of 2.76:1,though of course you can see the full picture on the artist’s individual pages.

That for Subotzky and Waterhouse shows 7 full images along with one detail view of a multiple image and a gallery view, as well as a postage stamp sized video, which in my browser refuses to go full screen or link to Vimeo except by some tricky right clicking, though perhaps that may have been because of a current heavy demand on the site. You can however watch it on Vimeo, where  the page also has links to the videos of the other three artists. I’d suggest changing the video to HD and making it full screen unless you are viewing it on some miniature device.

The other work I found of some photographic interest were the portraits by Nikolai Bakharev  made on Russian public beaches, mainly in the 1980s, when there were various restrictions on photography and the taking and circulation of photographs containing nudity was strictly forbidden.

While some of these excited me, there were too many that seemed to have little to offer. I had rather similar doubts about the portraits of black gay women by Zanele Muholi, where though the project may have been commendable and worthy, it needed some stronger images. And although I know people who enthuse over the work of Viviane Sassen, it did nothing for me.

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