The Deutsche Borse Photography Prize 2013
The Photographers’ Gallery, London
Until 30 June 2013
Review by Rebecca Newell
The advent of digital life has changed photography. The process of sharing images and being virtually social and mobile has become immeasurably easier; there is now a huge vaporous (and of course, backed up) repository for every kind of captured memory, every moment shared. Google has played an important part; the Google Street View initiative has photographed everything from your car to car accidents at the other side of the world, while the Google Art Project has aimed for an alarming kind of proximity to works of art unsurpassed, probably, and unintended, certainly, by the artist creators.
How should a prestigious photography prize reflect a climate where anyone and everyone can access, share and critique the results of global photography projects’ Firstly, the photographer finalists this year, in the seventeenth manifestation of the Deutsche Borse Prize, represent a less and less limited view of photography.
Using Street View imagery directly, Mishka Henner gathers and records sex workers on remote streets in Spain and Italy for No Man’s Land. Accompanied by information sourced from online forums discussing the remote locations of these workers, and a strange soundscape of birdsong, passing traffic and crickety heat, the images record facially pixilated women waiting in patches of shade, teetering on their platform heels and sitting on plastic chairs for passing trade. The camera clad Street View van looks and drives on without answers. Henner turns us all into trawlermen - the players in a vast Internet kerb crawl.
Elsewhere, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin overlay ‘poor’ images - so-called because they are low-res, screen-grabbed images of the War on Terror sourced on the Internet - on Bertold Brecht’s 1955 photo-essay War Primer. Reappropriating his World War Two, East Berlin published book, and alongside Brecht’s four line stanzas, the partnership place the Google results searched and yielded by their essential retelling of the poem. Abu Ghraib, George Bush, Hilary Clinton: the usual line up, now so desensitised and canonical. The poetic lines from half a century ago ring truer: ‘I know the way Fate has prescribed for us / That narrow way towards a precipice’.
Talking of truth, Cristina De Middel’s The Afronauts engages with photography’s so-called claim to veracity. Manipulated photographs, documents and drawings represent the forgotten tale of the ill-fated National Academy of Science, Space Research and Philosophy in ‘60s Zambia. In a conflation of myth and history, De Middel presents a folkloric take on the training and assembly of a team of astronauts. At every turn, the viewer wills the associated archive to be real - those sketches and letters - but the work is a discomforting mix of straw huts and spacesuits, familiar and unfamiliar.
Chris Killip has been photographing for the best part of half a century. Indeed, his entry, ‘What Happened - Great Britain is part of a broader retrospective of his work. The series is made up of black and white images taken of workers and non-workers in Yorkshire, Tyneside and on the Isle of Man, Killip’s home town. Threshers, fishermen and seacoal workers are all here, demonstrating Killip’s capacity for representing the working man of postwar Britain. There is bleakness too in the desolate streets and demolished buildings, and as in his Youth on a Wall of 1976, whose face is clenched in anguish or fatigue. But there are images of hope and joy - a man with his baby on his shoulders, an elderly couple eating fish and chips on a beach and a group of ladies proudly displaying their Jubilee memorabilia in 1977. The pictures are loaded with time; a time so long gone but so much closer to how we live, how we must live.
The digital age is an important cultural shift that surely needs documentation, but the power of Killip’s human images has lasted, and will outlast, the other entries.