The Deutshe Borse Photography Foundation Prize has entered its twentieth year and it continues to provide a platform to pioneers of arguably the most fundamental medium in modern culture. Through a varied display of contrasting techniques and subject matters, this year’s shortlist represents the best photographers who have produced and exhibited, in Europe, over the past year.
One leaves the exhibition with mixed feelings. On the one hand a sense of morose dejectedness that is provoked by the dark undertones of the subject matters, ranging from Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs’ photographic diary of Soviet decay from their trip through Eurasia, to Sophie Calle’s dark yet humorous memorials to her mother, father and… cat. On the other hand you leave with as sense of having just travelled through time as all photographers manage to capture a sense of movement and progression, or regression for that matter.
The standout exhibitions belong to Awoiska van der Molen and Dana Lixemburg. Both artists’ work in black and white and the beautiful simplicity of their monochrome pictures, adds to the potency of each of their images.
Most people would associate landscapes and nature, which are the subjects of Molen’s work, with the vibrant colours and contrasting tones of a specific place, and by avoiding this, Molen immerses the viewer into a nature that not many people can capture through photography. Her photographs give a sense of enormity that dwarfs the viewer, not in an oppressive or overbearing way, but in a manner that expresses movement and change.
Molen chooses not to label her work, which is a clever touch as, in my view, nature is a very personal thing and can be interpreted differently depending on the individual and without labels, the viewer’s interpretation isn’t pigeonholed. Of all the artists exhibited, Molen’s work is the most active. She has the ability to suck you into a tree-top canopy bursting with life and movement, or a sparse, lunar-esque, rocky cliff, whilst at the same time leaving you with a sense of isolation yearning to know what else is hidden beneath the shadows, or perhaps, what is hidden in the artist’s mind.
Photography captures a specific moment in time. But when a photograph or collection of photographs transcends time, that is when it becomes truly unique and praiseworthy.
Given the significance of the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles in the early 90s, and how relations between oppressed communities and the authorities are still strained today, Lixemburg’s collection of photos are especially poignant. She doesn’t show the stereotypical violence and oppression of these communities, rather the gritty tranquility that is contrasted through her use of black and white. Her photos evoke a true community spirit, which gives the sincerest representation of these Los Angeles neighbourhoods and their residents.
The photos are taken over a twenty-two year period and display the beautiful yet bleak reality of life in the Imperial Court neighbourhood of LA. For instance two portraits of Wilteysha, one taken in 1993, the other in 2013, show the change between a seemingly carefree teenage girl, to the determined and fearless grownup. From “Growing up in the Courts” to “Celebrations” to “R.I.P”, Lixemburg’s work bridges time and provides a touching tribute to one of America’s forgotten communities.