Deutsche Borse Prize and Exhibition

Posted on May 13, 2014


I went along to the Photographers’ Gallery for the announcement  of the Deutsche Borse Photography Prize (a perk of being an Associate Member of the Gallery). I also had the time to have a good look around the exhibition before it got too busy.

Before going along I had looked at the PG website and followed up with visits to other websites showcasing the work of the shortlisted artist/photographers. I was rooting for Lorna Simpson to win. I really like her conceptual approaches and her creative use of image and text. On the night however without question the most impressive exhibit was the 2.5×2 metre c-print of a landscape by Richard Mosse. It was resplendent in bright pink! It was breathtaking. From the moment I saw that print I thought that Mosse would take the prize and as it turned out he did.

What is most impressive about the exhibition is the sheer variety of the work on show and the modes of presentation. From the sex, drugs and rock and roll of Alberto Garcia-Alix, to the quiet poetic photographs of Jochen Lempert,  to the thought provoking conceptual installation of Lorna Simpson, to the massive pink c-prints of Richard Mosse. It would be hard to think of a broader spread of photographic interests.

Garcia-Alix’s work which was up for the prize is a series of self portraits. It is in the ‘Nan Goldin’ vein except that it seemed much more considered and staged. For me this made it unconvincing. Yes the images were well executed – wonderful square (Hasselblad) black and white photographs. But the work lacked spontaneity. There was one self portrait of Garcia-Alix’s arm. He is injecting himself with heroin. It is a perfectly composed image….not at all like the rough and tumble of Goldin. There is another close up of him holding a condom (used) and another of him having a pee. Lots of nudity, men and women. Not my cup of tea and a bit dated for my money.

Lempert’s images were reviewed by Sharon here. She referred to to way his photographs are ‘seemingly arbitrary texts (photographs)’ which he groups together in such a way that the viewer is free to make associations in a way that cannot be predicted or ascertained. His approach is what Umberto Eco would call an Open Work. In practice this is how Lempert’s photographs come over at the exhibition. Although in many of the groupings the photographs are almost identical. They present themselves as a kind of a puzzle for the viewer to resolve in their own way. The photographs were very low contrast black and white and were printed on a mat type of paper. The prints were attached directly to the wall with no mounting and framing. Lempert seemed to be making an ecological statement about not wasting resources. The installation was in fact quite spare.

Jochen Lempert Deutsche Borse Prize Installation Photographers Gallery London

Jochen Lempert Deutsche Borse Prize Installation Photographers Gallery London

Jochen Lempert Deutsche Borse Prize Installation Photographers Gallery London

Jochen Lempert Deutsche Borse Prize Installation Photographers Gallery London

Lorna Simpsons installation was intriguing. It comprised of upwards of 100 photographs organised in an uneven grid which moved from one wall through the corner and onto the next. The photographs were postcard size and all were mounted and in small square white frames. The images were a mixture of found images and photographs Simpson had made of herself recreating the found images. All  the photographs showed women in stereotypical poses, for the most part presented for the male gaze. The work is multilayered. It asks questions about the representation of women. It plays with the idea of an original work and a copy. The installation is a riddle..why did she choose to have four photographs in one column and only two in the next and so on. One could spend a lot of time with this work…sadly I did not have enough and plan to return.

Finally we come to the winner, Richard Mosse. His work has been much trumpeted and to be honest I felt that all the publicity might result in a sense of disappointment when I came to see it in the flesh. Actually the opposite was true. As a spectacle it is magnificent and I am sure that the multimedia versions of the work must be even more so. Mosse has printed his work big. The largest print is as mentioned above 5 meters square. The colours are a rich deep pinks and greens and bear little relation to reality. But they grab the attention. Mosse has taken the time to include extended captions alongside the photographs explaining what the image shows and what the issues are in the Congo. This conflict in the Congo is a forgotten war and Mosse’s use of discontinued military surveillance film with its startling colour palette has succeeded in bringing it to the world’s attention. I remember seeing Pieter Hugo’s images of the human and animal inhabitants of the Agbogbloshie, in Ghana’s capital Accra, last year and thinking at the time….they are really well done but there is nothing new here.  Mosse’s work is new and is different and does grab attention. In the end I was a convert and I think Mosse was a well deserved winner. It was sad that Lorna Simpson didn’t win. She would have been a worthy holder of the prize, but….