23rd February – 3rd June 2018
Free admission before 12.00 every day
Exhibition Day Pass £4 (£2.50 concessions)
Advance Online Booking £2.50
This 2018 edition of the ‘Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize’ at the Photographers’ Gallery features four artists: Batia Suter, Rafal Milach, Mathieu Asselin and Luke Willis Thompson.
The foundation and the gallery have collaborated since 2005 to present every year a selection of artworks. Past winners included Sophie Ristelhueber, Richard Mosse (a King’s College London alumni) and Dana Lixenberg in 2017 for the publication of Imperial Courts, a book about residents of a social housing project in Los Angeles.
This year’s selection followed the past trends of featuring political and diverse works. One of the exhibition’s striking aspects is the redefinition of photography as a medium. Videos, newspaper articles, objects as well as drawings are displayed in relatively small rooms. The variety of works shown provides a much sought after breath of fresh air in the photography world.
The exhibition begins with Batia Suter. Her work, Parallel Encyclopedia #2, is by far the most conceptual one displayed. She tries to highlight the context of representation of an image by showcasing a diverse and subjective sequence of found images, most of them being plants. In a spacious room, however, Suter’s work would have had a more decisive impact on the visitor.
Refusal, by Rafal Milach addresses a more factual topic by examining the ‘sociotechnical systems of governmental control and ideological manipulations of belief and consciousness’ in post-Soviet countries such as Azerbaijan or Poland. Undoubtedly, all these political tools seem absurd, at first sight, when they are presented to us in this context. As informed visitors, we are sceptical about the effectiveness of the governmental centres and chess schools designed to ‘develop young Azerbaijanis’ spatial imagination and abstract thinking skills’. This is particularly the case with the picture of an unfinished viewing tower in Anaklia, Georgia, which points out with irony the absurdity of some of the Soviet measures.
Moving on, Mathieu Asselin’s work gives an insightful understanding of Monsanto’s practices. This ‘concerned citizen’, as he describes himself, shows in Monsanto: A Photographic Investigation some of the negative impacts of the company’s products. This exhibition, which has already been displayed in “Les Rencontres d’Arles” this past summer in a larger scale, offers a variety of material including newspaper articles, photography and even a seed. This display is part of Asselin’s larger work, ‘The Stock Market’ on the purchase of Monsanto by the German chemical and agricultural giant Bayer AG in the summer of 2016. Some salient pictures are shown such as the one of Troy Roush, a farmer, who was wrongly accused of saving seeds and had to pay $390,000 to the company. He is pictured in his field of corn, standing against a pole, his face marked by the battle he fought to reveal the truth. Another picture represents David Runyon’s tiny red farm, a last rampart in the middle of ominous depots. It represents well the restricted Monsanto victims’ situation and their relative incapacity to take action against their persecutor.
The last artwork displayed is Autoportrait by Luke Willis Thompson. It is a 35mm film of 8 minutes made in collaboration with Diamond Reynolds. She was next to her boyfriend, Philando Castile, in July 2016, when a police officer killed him. She filmed herself, her partner and the police officer, right after the shot was triggered. This violent video, seen more than 6 million times, touched Americans due to its poignant depiction of Reynolds’ emotional state. Thompson therefore tried to approach this tragic act and reaction differently. He filmed Reynolds from different angles, showing her motionless body and face, which makes the video resemble a photograph. The projection’s only failure lies in its limited reach, if the visitor has not already seen the initial clip. Only the opposition of both videos, one of brutality, chaos and confusion, and the other of silence, sadness, and grief, would help understand this meaningful and far-reaching work. In this present display the visitor, not necessarily aware of the initial video, could fail to grasp its true message.
Finally, when leaving the exhibition, you are offered to leave your opinion on who the winner of the ‘Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize’ should be. Some will be convinced by one of the artworks, others will have their doubts, yet all works a have their own significance that ‘drive forward an artistic enquiry into the mechanics of visibility and concealment and interrogate the status and position of the image in contemporary culture’; and that is, undeniably, this exhibition’s biggest achievement.