One of the charms and curses of living in London is the amount of tourists that flood the city on a day-to-day basis. One cannot move from point a to b without having to navigate an obstacle course of rolling suitcases, slow walking visitors 'taking in the scenery', and -- worst of all -- the sudden-stop amateur photographers. These ‘types’ can be recognized quickly through the gigantic SLR cameras around their necks and their tendency to short stop the entire population of London every few steps to capture their photos.
Since the popularization of digital cameras, photography has become so much more accessible to the general public. People like to think that they ‘get’ photos. What really seems to have occurred with the popularization and over-saturation of photographic images in contemporary life is a heightened lazy-viewing attitude on the audience’s part when it comes to fine art photography. Truth be told, fine art photography is often not as intimidating as minimalist installation and as a result, those viewing same may be lulled into a superficial relationship with the work. The Deutsche Börse Photography Prize is refreshing because it celebrates the best contemporary artists that push the boundaries of the photographic medium.
This year Jim Goldberg was awarded the £30 000 prize. He was nominated for his exhibition in 2010 at the Photographers Gallery Open See. His work was a constructed narrative based on the images and video of migration, immigration, and the individuals that strive to seek out better lives for themselves and their families. The relevance of Goldberg’s work is particularly important presently because the current position that the UK Home Office has towards immigration bring with it a crackdown on migrants, work permits, and visas. Goldberg’s work gives haunting snapshots of displaced humans through text, Polaroid, video, and photo. Together they create a mass en masse moving from their war stricken, impoverished, and endangered lives to a new European sensibility of ‘survival’ as an immigrant.
Each of the nominees on the shortlist has contributed significantly to the discourse of the contemporary photographic medium. Thomas Demand’s staged reproductions of interiors modeled in miniature and photographed into life size, create an unsettling backdrop for viewers to attach ideas of significance, reproduction, and narrative. Roe Etheridge plays with the idea of photography itself with his highly stylized commercial images that sit on the uncomfortable edge of staged, positioned and falsified. The Deutsche Börse Prize pays homage to outstanding practitioners of photographic practice and gives viewers the chance to discover what contemporary conceptual photography is. Compared to Flickr’s archive of urban architectural exploration from the viewpoint of a pedestrian looking skyward (there are hundreds), I know which viewing experience I would rather invest an afternoon to muse after.
-- David Yu
All images courtesy The Photographers Gallery. Images top-bottom: Jim Goldberg, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO. 2008. His radio is the sole possession that he took with him while escaping a rebel attack in his village. He now lives in a refugee camp with 60,000 other people where poverty, disease, and crime run rampant. © Jim Goldberg / Magnum Photos. Thomas Demand, Heldenorgel, 2009, © Thomas Demand, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn / DACS, London/, Courtesy Sprüth Magers Berlin, London/ Esther Schipper, Berlin/ Matthew Marks Gallery, New York