Not a great year for photography’s prestigious Deutsche Borse prize. The winner Richard Mosse used a large-format camera and discontinued military reconnaissance film (originally designed for camouflage detection, thus registering an invisible spectrum of infra-red light) to photograph a warzone in the east of Congo that has claimed over 5 million lives so far. The resultant images are rendered in vibrant, psychedelic colour reminiscent of simple negative prints.
Although an alternative to the stereotypical war photograph, the use of colour as a metaphor for blood letting is fairly simplistic and relies on the viewer being unfamiliar with nuances of hue to convert ordinary landscapes into dramatised statements. Mosse’s efforts could have been shot digitally and adjusted in Photoshop in 2 seconds flat. In comparison, Simon Norfolk, who was shortlisted for the same prize in 2003, using a more traditional large format approach to capture much more essence of the after effects of war without the gaudy aestheticisation of tragedy.
Lorna Simpson uses found photographs montaged with self images, text etc. that challenge the viewer to decode the links between the situation and her appearance within.
A variety of different combinations keep the viewer thinking and questioning issues about gender, identity, memory and the body. The resultant body of work is a thoughtful but visually sterile entity.
Alberto García Alix’s self indulgent self portraits are firmly in the style of Nan Goldin and earlier still Larry Clark and Robert Frank. Concentrating on familiar themes of intravenous drug use and used condoms alongside more casual snapshots of friends and acquaintances, Alix depicts a netherworld of depravity from within over a four decade period.
A mix of documentary and staged images, the works reflect a life of both intimacy and excess, where photography is used to mediate experiences, fears, neuroses and inner battles.
The lo-fi print quality and presentation promotes the photograph as a disposable alternative to art as object and is equally refreshing as objectionable, inasmuch as declining to conform with gallery expectation of traditional ‘quality’.
This competition has, in tandem with fine art, become a theoretical exercise in ‘non’ photography. Although striving for new visions, the nominees have inadvertently(?) settled on formulaic ‘contemporary’ avenues that dwell on styles from photography’s postmodern(!) period, one that now needs a radical shake up.