Deutsche Börse photography prize

Sharon Boothroyd initiated my investigation into this topic through her OCA article[1] publicising a study visit in June.  Although she prompts a question “What is contemporary photography anyway?”  I was not so interested in this but rather what was being exhibited and my thoughts on how they should be categorized.  She refers us further to four other articles in which the entries are discussed:

Guardian (Adrian Searle)

1000 words


Guardian (Sean O’Hagan)

Of the four shortlisted ‘artists’, Chris Killip, Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin, Mishka Henner and Cristina de Middel only Killip is a photographer in the true sense of the word, whilst the remaining three are artists who use photography.

SP1. Ancarno, Abruzzi, Italy, 2011 by Mishka HennerMishka Henner‘s SP1 Ancarno, Abruzzi, Italy (2011) Mishka Henner uses Google Street View images to depict sex workers in ‘No Man’s Land II’.  Although he has clearly spent time in identifying first the locations and then finding an image at that location, this to my mind is neither being an artist nor a photographer.  He is simply finding and appropriating the work of another and adding his name to it.  This is a complex debate of course but when I break it down to this level, I have a big problem with him calling it his work.
Boat repair, Skinningrove, North Yorkshire, 1983 by Chris KillipChris Killip’s Boat repair, Skinningrove, North Yorkshire (1983) Chris Killip’s entry ‘What Happened/Great Britain 1970 – 1990’ is an excellent documentary exhibit showing changes in Great Britain in this period.  These images gel with me as a photographer and provide a narrative of society at that time.
 Youth on Wall, Jarrow, Tyneside, 1976 by Chris KillipChris Killip’s Youth on Wall, Jarrow, Tyneside (1976)  
 Adam Broomberg and Oliver ChanarinAdam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin’s Plate 26, George Bush serves a Thanksgiving turkey to US troops stationed in Baghdad in 2003 (2011) Bloomberg and Chanarin provide an interesting set of images although also not their own.  They have taken the book ‘War Primer’ by Bertolt-Brecht and inserted images they have found on the internet partially obscuring the original images yet adding to them creating ‘War Primer 2’.  Brecht’s original work is a collection of photographs/cuttings of the Second World War with his own short verses. Bloomberg and Chanarin have provided a documentary depiction of the war on terror using those of World War II as a basis.  Clever use of both elements yet in my mind would not qualify as their photography.  Certainly, they have done more creative work than Henner in my opinion but not as photographers.
 Cristina de Middel's Jambo from the series The Afronauts, 2012Cristina de Middel’s Jambo, from the series The Afronauts (2012). Finally, there is the work of Cristina de Middel, which uses the concept of Zambia’s space efforts.  This is a book of constructed photographs, drawings and cuttings that combines myth with reality.

In conclusion then I have to say that although I find the Henner work interesting in concept, I am unable to place this in the same category as that of de Middel or Killip.  The work of Broomberg and Chanarin also falls outside of this category buy creates an interesting dialogue.

Am I against the appropriation of work of others?  Not fundamentally, however if it is to be portrayed as ones own then I have a problem with that, as it would then be plagiarism.  This is a debate that has been raging for a long time and I certainly will not solve it here.

The entries have provided me with different perspectives of ‘photographic art’ rather than photography per se and it is this learning that I have to take from it.


About Doug Bell

Having recently retired I am now undertaking some studies in photography through the OCA which, I hope will lead to a degree in photography.
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1 Response to Deutsche Börse photography prize

  1. profstoff says:

    Doug – I agree wholeheartedly with on the work of Mishka Henner, in fact you might have seen my post in response to Sharon’s article. I actually find it quite incredible that not only can it be taken seriously as art, but it’s on the shortlist of four for a prestigious photography prize. As you say, the work of Bloomberg and Chanarin almost falls into the same category but at least they do something different and say something new with it. I like de Middel’s offering, but then that’s just my sense of humour.

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