DB Prize goes political

The shortlist for the 2016 Deutsche Börse photography prize is the subject of an article by Sean O’Hagan in The Guardian, Deutsche Börse photography prize shortlist: drones v the women of Tahrir, in which he writes it “is dominated by artists who engage with contemporary politics and social issues, from drone warfare to refugee activists in Africa.”

A small quibble in that, as he goes on to make clear in the next paragraph, Tobias Zielony actually “photographed the everyday life and struggles of African refugee activists in his native Germany for his exhibition The Citizen.” It’s work that seen on the web has only a limited appeal to me, but as well as the “Layout of 22 colour photographs, various sizes, on 11 large-scale pigmented inkjet prints, mounted on Aludibond, framed, 225 x 160 cm each” which you can view on screen the show also include an installation of newspapers, in 12 hanging displays, 130 x 205 cm each together with a 16 pages tabloid format which include the first-hand written accounts and interviews that O’Hagan mentioned. You get some idea of the look of these from the installation views of the show at the 2015 Venice Biennale also on the page.

Eric Kessels project ‘Unfinished Father‘ is more about an exhibition than about photography, and I’m not sure it will translate well to the Photographers’ Gallery. It certainly isn’t a book I would ever think of buying, and I think the photography in itself is of little interest, although the vintage images of the Fiats on the street towards the end of the short video have a certain charm, and incredibly empty streets.

Trevor Paglen‘s The Octopus is another installation which has little to offer me on the web, and from all I can see or read I doubt will engage me more in the gallery. But perhaps a closer investigation will bring out something of photographic interest.

I’ve mentioned Laura El-Tantawy‘s ‘In the Shadow of the Pyramids‘ several times on this blog, though unfortunately I missed the presentation she gave at one of our union meetings in London. But if you took my advice from In the Shadow of the Pyramids you will already have and have been impressed by her self-published book which is the subject of this short listing. And in response to a review of this work I added a little of my own thoughts in 1000 Words. The book as I predicted is sold out (and available on the web at around four times the original cost – but hang on and it will go up more), but the web site gives a great impression of the work and also includes page spreads and embeds a number of reviews.

I don’t much like these large competitions, which I think have a restrictive effect on photography, putting too much power over the future direction of the medium into the hands of a small and largely self-selected elite. It’s perhaps unhealthy too, that it’s banks which are behind a number of them – should we be relying so heavily on them for the future of the medium? And if these four photographers are all judged to be worthy of having their work exhibited at the Photographers’ Gallery I think there is something inherently unfair that just one of them should walk away with the £30,000 prize.  Usually it’s the wrong one.

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