Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2014 - Who and why?

Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2014
text by Grażyna Siedlecka

The four shortlisted artists for Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2014 have been announced. This year's finalists are Alberto Garcia-Alix, Jochen Lempert, Lorna Simpson and Richard Mosse.

The Deutsche Börse photography prize is one of the most prestigious art awards in Europe, founded in 1996 by The Photographers' Gallery in London, supported and sponsored by Deutsche Börse Group since 2005. The list of previous winners includes such notable individuals as Paul Graham, Juergen Teller, John Stezaker, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin. The annual prize of £30,000 goes to an artist of any nationality, who has exhibited or published an outstanding body of work that has significantly contributed to photography in Europe (quoting the information provided by The Photographers’ Gallery).

Press Image l DBPP14 l Jochen Lempert, Untitled (girl in telephone booth), 1993-2011

The Deutsche Börse Photography prize 2014 jury includes Kate Bush, Jitka Hanzlova, Thomas Seelig, Anne-Marie Beckmann and Brett Rogers (the non-voting Chair). The winner will be announced on the 12th of May 2014 during a special ceremony at The Photographers' Gallery Before that happens, four nominated projects will be available for public viewing between 11 April and 11 June 2014 at The Photographers' Gallery.

The nominated works cover a diverse range of subjects and techniques, ranging from black and white self-portraits to experimental war documentary photos. The innovative thinking, groundbreaking ideas and broad-minded approaches is what makes these various pieces stand out.


Richard Mosse (born in Kilkenny, 1980) is nominated for his exhibition “The Enclave”, which represented Ireland in the Venice Biennale 2013. This photographer has been getting more and more international attention since publishing his most recent work about the violent ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but what makes Mosse's photographs special? The photographer decided to use the virtually-obsolete Kodak Aerochrome film, which captures a spectrum of infrared light which is invisible to a human eye. This technology was developed by the U.S. military to be used for aerial surveillance. The project resulted in an eye-catching, psychedelic six-channel video installation and large format photographs, full of succulent reds and pinks, forcing a viewer to look at them again and again in attempt to understand what exactly is depicted in these beautiful pictures and the story behind them.

Richard Mosse, Safe From Harm, 2012 / Press Image / Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2014
Mosse is perceived as one who breaks with the clichés of war journalism. In a truly sparkling tactic, he attempts to challenge the generic convention of classical photography and questions the sense of realism used to represent such a complex phenomena as war.

In an interview with Aaron Shuman for Aperture Magazine in 2011, Mosse explained: The camera’s dumb optic is intensely literal, yet the world is far from being simple or transparent. Air disasters, terrorism, the simulated nature of modern warfare, the cultural interface between an occupying force and its enemy, the martyr drive in Islamic extremism, the intangibility of Eastern Congo’s conflict—these are all subjects that are very difficult to express with traditional documentary realism; they are difficult to perceive in their own right. This is the reason why the artist started to look for a new and more convincing method of storytelling. But I feel that the real is only effectively communicated through shocks to the imagination, precipitated by the Sublime. That may seem like an archaic term, but what I’m referring to here is contemporary art’s unique ability to make visible what cannot be perceived, breaching the limits of representation.

Love Is The Drug, South Kivu, eastern Congo, 2012 / Richard Mosse / digital C print, 110 x 210 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Jack Shaiinman Gallery. South of Lake Kivu, the River Rusizi forms the natural border dividing the Democratic Republic of Congo (on the right) from the Republic of Rwanda. In the mid-1990s, Hutu genocidaires from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) fled across this river following the Rwandan Genocide to take refuge in eastern Congo’s remote jungle landscape, where they have lived nomadically ever since.  This paramilitary group has been responsible for destabilizing the region for almost two decades.


The German artist Jochen Lempert (born in Moers, 1958), has been shortlisted for the show titled “Jochen Lempert”, which ran between 22 June and 29 September 2013 at the Hamburger Kunsthalle. Formerly trained as an entomologist, Lempert has been working with the photographic medium since the early 90’s.
The nominated selection of work consists of black and white photographs and photograms that investigate the subtle relationships between the man-made and natural worlds. The importance lies in the way the issue of coexistence is drawn out. Some portray nature intriguingly anthropomorphically, triggering the viewer’s sense of watching intimate moments of animals from the perspective of a voyeur. On the other hand, Lempert is perceived as a master of the transformation of natural patterns and structures into completely abstract images and compilations. Among the images there are also some that reveal the artist’s interest in typologies - visual representations of selected specimens of nature, assembled into grids, showcased similarly to Bernd And Hilla Brecher‘s way of cataloguing captured pieces of reality. But all the frames combine, quoting Brett Rogers, the precision of a scientist with the lyricism of a poet.

Jochen Lempert,Aves-Ucelli, 1997-2013, 9 photographs, gelatin silver prints, 59 x 48 cm each photograph. Overall dimensions; 187 x 154 cm, Ed. 6, Photograph: Roberto Ruiz / Courtesy ProjecteSD

The artist’s favourite tool is 35 mm camera loaded with black and white negative. He develops films and makes the silver gelatine prints himself, using the wide range of sizes and types of paper (but generally baritate), deliberately ‘forgetting’ to flatten the papers after enlarging and processing. The resulting works are likely to bend and crumple. In combination with the specific graphicness as well as the artist’s habit of presenting images in galleries simply attached directly to a white wall without any frame or mounting, the pictures connote sculptures or drawings more than photographs. Emphasised materiality (Chris Sharp writing on Lempert’s works created a notion of object-ness) gives them such qualities as uniqueness and irreproducibility, features which are becoming less and less common in the digital, high definition world.

Jochen Lempert, Fly, 2008, 4 photographs, silver gelatin prints, 24 x 18 cm each, Ed. 5, Courtesy ProjecteSD


Alberto Garcia - Alix, Spanish artist born in León, 1956, has been selected by the jury on account of his latest book “Autorretrato/Selfportrait” (published by La Fabrica Editorial, 2013). The title presents more than 150 black and white pictures taken over nearly four decades by one of the most acclaimed photographers in Europe. We can see throughout his pictorial diary the uncensored documentation of the social and cultural historic movement called Movida Madrilena.

Press Image l DBPP14 l Alberto Garcia-Alix l My feminine side, 2002

The year 1976 was a very important time for Spain. General Francisco Franco died and his thirty-nine year fascist dictatorship ended. This incident started a new chapter in Spanish history: a time of joy and liberties, full of sex, guns and drugs. In this rough time the camera became Garcia - Alix’s constant companion. The photographer was recording his private life by taking hundreds of shots, portraying friends and strangers, prostitutes and dealers, motorcyclists and drug addicts, in the streets, parks and houses. He depicted the world of teenagers living on the edge. The inhabitants of the capital were enjoying freedom to the full, but it needs to be kept in mind that there was a silent drama behind it. Most of the heroes of Garcia – Alix’s pictures died young. Back then, only the elite had drugs and we felt so privileged, said the artist in one of the interviews. Why am I still alive? Ask God!

The portraits taken by this Spanish photographer are truly striking; he reveals the secret of their power: More than seeking naturalness, what I seek with my photographs is what I call 'virtue'. To achieve this I always seek the face of my subject, fixing his or her eyes on a point which will correspond to the eye of the spectator, so that the viewer is also observed by the image. That is the mystery of photography for me, its virtue: that is, that the image should observe the spectator.

Press Image l DBPP14 l Alberto Garcia-Alix l Self-portrait with Ana Curra, 1984

The photographs featured in the nominated book are focused on telling the story of Garcia - Alix’s life for the last 30 years. Most of the pictures are taken using Leica 35 mm and Hasselblad 6x6 cameras. This personal retrospective includes staged self-portraits, closeups of the author’s face and body, snapshots of important places, his intimate landscape. This photographer seems to dig deeply into his emotions and memory, trying to analyze every detail of his own myth. It’s easy to get the impression that the project exists purely for an inner necessity to settle the past. The pictures are the best way to achieve it:

Photography is a certificate of presence; but, even
more so, it is a certificate of absence.
In photos we are no longer as we are. 
We are as we were…


Last but not least of the shortlisted artists- Lorna Simpson (born in New York, 1960), is nominated for her exhibition Lorna Simpson (Retrospective). The show was located at Jeu de Paume in Paris and opened to the public between 28 May - 1 September, curated by Joan Simon. Her first retrospective in Europe gathers works created over the almost 30 year career of this first female Afro-American to have a solo exhibition in MOMA and to participate at the Venice Biennale.

Press Image l DBPP14 l Lorna Simpson l Waterbearer, 1986

Throughout her work, Brooklyn-based Simpson pushes the limits of photography and challenges stereotypical views of identity, gender, culture and memory, making sexism and racism a major topic of her artistic work. Visually, the project is dominated by gesture and body representations, by means of wide variety of media. Being a conceptual artist, she combines photography not only with text, but also with video, film, installation, found objects and archival materials, to ask questions and confront the spectator with his own associations. As Sean O’Hagan (The Guardian) said, It's up to the viewer to make connections in her open-ended narratives. Those connections often have to do with race, identity and memory – but nothing is overloaded. Instead, the works often have a pared-down quality and odd blankness – where a single object, a hairstyle or a wig, can come to represent a whole index of possible meanings or readings. Simpson used to speak about her works as a mirror, in which everybody can see his own convictions drawn from personal and collective memory.

The retrospective highlights the continuity of her artistic path, from 1980s large format pairings of photographs and text (among them famous works Gestures/ Reenactments, Guarded conditions and Waterbearer), through pieces printed on felt panels (eg Wigs), drawings and projects that utilise found archival materials (eg LA-57 NY-09, Please remind me of who I am...), with striking video installations (eg Momentum, Playing Chess) ending.

Press Image l DBPP14 l Lorna Simpson l Momentum (still), 2011

The frequent hero of her sophisticated black and white or tinged with gold artworks is a black female figure with no face (with her back to the camera or captured fragmentally from chin downwards). Lorna is considered as one who fights with the underlying racism which still exists in American culture. But her works are not meant to draw attention just to black people: My question is, why does working with a black figure necessarily mean that the work loses a universal quality? Not to perceive its universality seems to me to be a shortcoming of the audience rather than of mine.

This year's shortlisted works are thrilling and innovative, each artist is unique in his approach, representing a high artistic standard, constituting new ways to understand the photographic medium as part of contemporary art. I would like to paraphrase the words Frank Klaas (Managing director Global Public Affairs, Deutsche Börse): I am impressed by the jury’s excellent selection and very much look forward to the 2014 exhibition.


Grażyna Siedlecka is a journalist and photographer. Born in Poland, lives and works in London, UK. Prior to become the graduate of Akadamia Fotografii in Krakow, she studied cultural sciences at the Jagiellonian University. Former London correspondent for Polish FOTO magazine, currently writing for Dublin-based "prism" photography magazine. Siedlecka is mainly fascinated by contemporary artists, that seek for the new ways of using photographic medium.

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