Finalists of Deutsche Börse prize showcase work at The Photographers' Gallery

Ruth Hazard | 11 July 2012
Muse (Film Portrait Collage) XIII (2012)© John Stezaker
Exhibition: Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2012, The Photographers' Gallery, London, July 13 - September 9 2012

What makes art prize exhibitions so fascinating is the rare chance they provide to see the best works of any given genre, however different, brought together in one space.

The Deutsche Börse show at The Photographers' Gallery is a case in point. It brings together the work of four staggeringly diverse prize finalists, each deemed to have made a significant contribution to photography in Europe over the past year.

The result is a series of mini exhibitions encapsulating the nominated body of work by each artist.

Pieter Hugo and Rinko Kawauchi, photographers hailing from South Africa and Japan respectively, have their works displayed together on the top floor, allowing Hugo’s haunting images of a Ghanaian industrial waste site to be viewed in the same gaze as Kawauchi’s dreamy capturings of a series of individual moments.

Yakubu Al Hasan, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana (2009)© Pieter Hugo
Hugo’s background as photojournalist is hard to miss; 70 per cent of the 20-50 million tonnes of global e-waste ends up in poor countries like Ghana.

His images focus on the slum dwellers who make work out of recycling the discarded electrical goods, risking toxic conditions in their bid to earn the income they so desperately need. Many of these workers are children.

One subject, a young girl, at first seems alien in her delicately embroidered white dress. But her battered flip flops and dirt caked feet betray the reality of the life she faces.

It's heartbreaking work, but there's light relief in the accompanying collection by Kawauchi, whose images are borne out of her interest in “the small voices in our world, those which whisper”.

Functioning as a surreal sequence of ephemeral moments mirroring the experience of a half-remembered dream or memory, the images are displayed in random clusters.

The eye can thus wander from the reflecting light of the sun, caught in a motor cycle mirror, to the frothy turquoise water of an ever swirling whirlpool; or from the ash about to drop from a smoking cigarette to the dripping rain from the dome of an umbrella.

A looping video sequence flashes through more of these seemingly mundane moments, transforming them into something almost hallucinatory, as one visual idea quickly succumbs to the next.
 
© Christopher Williams
Also at the space is Brit photographer John Stezaker, whose long-term, endlessly unfinished collections of work are created from film stills, vintage postcards and encyclopaedia illustrations. Each of them show a fascination with reworking found images to find new levels of meaning.

His film portrait collages involve the pasting together of two entirely different faces to create a new standalone image, transforming notoriously glamorous Hollywood starlets into grotesque-looking oddities.

This process doesn’t just alter the aesthetics of the picture, but the perception of the subject it contains.

Also featured is Stezaker’s collection of mini cut-outs, often just a few centimetres in size, which feature tiny stick figures the artist has found wandering around in larger illustrations.

These erstwhile lost, minute characters become the protagonists as we are drawn into their stories - crossing the road, reading a book or greeting a friend.

Stezaker shares the lower gallery with American-born Christopher Williams, a conceptual artist and photographer whose interest is in creating images of cameras, models vehicles and technical apparatus.

Unfortunately there are only three images by Williams featured, making it difficult to form any real connection with his work. While there are clearly hints at an exploration of mechanical processes and equipment, the lack of a coherent narrative causes them to seem a little lost next to the other displays.

Although diverse, there are parallels to be drawn between all the work on display. Each artist has used their lens as a means of opening up debate and discussion, and there seems to be an emphasis on questioning the way we perceive the images we encounter.

It is, perhaps, this common thread that guarantees a worthy winner.

  • Open 10am-6pm 8pm Thursday, 11.30am-6pm Sunday). Admission free

More pictures:
© Pieter Hugo
© Rinko Kawauchi
© Rinko Kawauchi
© John Stezaker

© Christopher Williams
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