This is an annual exhibition sponsored by the Deutsche Börse Group and where the aim is to ‘reward a contemporary photographer of any nationality, who has made the most significant contribution (exhibition or publication) to the medium of photography in Europe in the previous year’ . There were four nominated photographers in the running for this year’s prize and the first thing that I noticed was that there were no ‘true’ colour images in the exhibition – three of the photographers worked in black and white and the fourth in infrared – and I wondered whether this was coincidence or a deliberate choice by the judging panel.
The first work that you see, and the winner of the 2014 prize, is ‘The Enclave’ by Richard Mosse. Mosse documented the war in the Congo, shooting with Kodak Aerochrome infrared film that was formerly used to by the US military as a surveillance tool to detect camouflage in the landscape. However his images are not just about the landscape, they also include the soldiers who are fighting in the conflict. The resulting work, displayed as very large prints, is sublimely beautiful with the jungle landscape depicted in bright pink and red hues due to the infrared film. Mosse also included quite lengthy captions alongside the photographs explaining each image and describing what the issues are in the Congo, which I thought was a good way of bringing these to the pubic’s attention. I found these images breathtaking, although the question of ethics and whether war should be beautified in this way does rear its head.
Alberto Garcia-Alix – Autorretrato / Self Portait
Unlike the other three entrants who were nominated for their exhibitions, Garcia-Alix was selected for his book ‘Autorretrato / Self Portrait’ published in 2013. The black and white images exhibited here were nearly life-sized and reflected the artist’s life over nearly forty years. Very narcissistic and showing excesses of drug use and sexual practices, I got the impression that this work was a mixture of honest self-reflection (self-loathing even) and staged self-portraits, the latter trying to make some sort of point (I’m not quite sure what). I really did not like this work, finding it distasteful and uncomfortable to look at in places. I was reminded of the work of Robert Mapplethorpe, although Mapplethorpe’s images do include a beauty that I felt was lacking here.
Jochen Lempert – Jochen Lempert
There seems to be an ongoing debate in photographic circles as to whether nature photography can be regarded as art and Lempert’s exhibition I believe shows that this can be possible. Another body of work solely in black and white (low-contrast in this instance), Lempert composes his images to encourage contemplation rather than instant recognition and the manner of his presentation (unframed images taped to the wall) invites further investigation from the viewer – is this an ecological statement? I think the key to Lempert’s success is that he has managed to represent nature subjectively, at times in a poetic way, rather than in an objective manner which is so often the case with nature photography.
Lorna Simpson – Summer ’57 / Summer ’09
Simpson’s exhibition comprised of two elements – archival images and self-portraits. Simpson purchased a set of photographs of an unknown African woman in a variety of poses (there is also an anonymous man who occasionally appears) and then set about recreating similar poses herself as a series of self-portraits, finding similar locations to the original images. This was an intriguing piece of work but I am not sure that I understood the reasons behind it and what Simpson was trying to say. I am assuming that she is touching on gender and race but at this early stage in my studies the more complex reading of this work eludes me.
In conclusion I consider that Mosse was a worthy winner as his work does grab the public’s attention, mainly by being different. It is something new and stunning to look at and has also succeeded in bringing a forgotten war back into the public eye.
I spent some time thinking about what I had taken away from this exhibition that could influence my own practice. I don’t feel inspired by any of the four photographers’ work; yes I enjoyed Mosse’s images but I don’t have any desire at the moment to dabble in infrared. In the end I decided that my main take-away was my lack of ability to read more complex work such as that presented by Simpson, and a lack of interest to dig deeper into work that at first glance does not appeal (I’m thinking Garcia-Alix here). Hopefully I can address both these points as I progress further in my studies.
 Deutsch Börse Photography Prize (online). Deutsche Börse AG. Available from http://deutsche-boerse.com/dbg/dispatch/en/kir/dbg_nav/corporate_responsibility/33_Art_Collection/25_photography_prize [accessed 07 August 2014]