Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2011 takes Photographers' Gallery final to Ambika P3 space

By Ben Miller | 05 April 2011
A photo of a brown hut in shadows
Thomas Demand, Haltestelle (2009)© Thomas Demand, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn/DACS, London
Exhibition: Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2011, Ambika P3, London, until May 1 2011

Nobody could accuse this year’s Deutsche Borse of failing to heighten the senses. The consequence of the Photographers’ Gallery’s temporary departure from its Ramilies Street base is a rush of multicoloured rotting fruit, sex trafficking and grand sculptural illusions.

They've been gifted to the warehouse vault of P3, a starkly different space to the lofty staircases and modest gallery spaces which would have played host to the finalists.

The central plot of the sparse industrial bunker is dominated by Heldenorgel, German artist Thomas Demand’s three-dimensional paper model of a room packed with pipes and cylinders, given a backdrop of a huge set of floor length curtains ordered to draw the eye like an optical mirage.

Part office, part orchestra, all is not as it seems here – Demand destroyed these perfectly-sculpted sleights of hand after photographing them, as if they were solely crafted to leave us endlessly wondering exactly how they were made.

If the opening gambit of an entirely artificial sculpture doesn’t leave you questioning your line of vision, Roe Ethridge’s works should send your scepticism soaring.

A photo of a woman in a green dress smiling
Roe Ethridge, Thanksgiving 1984 (2009)© Roe Ethridge, courtesy Greengrassi London / Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York / Mai 36 Gallerie, Zurich
Taking a cynical view of imagery, which he suggests is redundant, Ethridge rasps his tongue at fashion and commercial photography through bowls of strawberries under furs of mould and cows grazing under bleak horizons, stretching off into blur.

The critical detail in everything here feels sinister and off-kilter, not least in a shot of a woman who could be a 1940s film star, her flawless grin gleaming under eyes as inanimate and dead as the panels of the picture postcard kitchen she sits in.

Opposite, films of formation dance troupes in skintight silver and footage of silent actors click and whirr, breaking up vivid little portraits by the Israeli artist Elad Lassry.

A blurred photo of a man smiling
Elad Lassry, Man 071 (2007)© Elad Lassry, courtesy David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
The boundaries between the animate and inanimate are toyed with beyond recognition by Lassry, only defined by colour themes (a litter of brown cats, a row of tiny green tomatoes floating in turquoise, lipsticks on green stands hinting at a kind of pop art sexuality.)

It’s down to Jim Goldberg to break up the glitter and bring you back down to earth with images of figures on the fringes of migration and conflict.

Arrows painted on spines point at scars torn during Taliban torture, boys in African villages cradle radio sets, scribbled stories of war and the sex industry accompany doe-eyed portraits and, in a jigsaw-style central merge of shots, a Bangladeshi man clutches the upside down carcass of a goat he’s found for dinner, procured from the acres of junk surrounding him.

A black and white photo of a boy in the Democratic Republic of Congo
© Jim Goldberg/ Magnum Photos
More affecting than the saturated playfulness preceding them but detached enough not to preach, Goldberg weaves words around bodies and landlines in a narrative of the stories each picture tells.

Perhaps it depends on the order in which you meander through P3, but the lasting sense is one of light and shade, continuing the lineage of a competition adept at condensing eclecticism into an acerbic annual quartet.

  • Open 11am-6pm (8pm Thursday). Admission free. The winner will be announced on April 26 2011.
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