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04 Dec 2014 08:03
Zanele Muholi, a self-styled “visual activist”, is nominated
for her photobook Faces and Phrases,
in which black-and-white portraits of South Africa’s LGBT community are
accompanied by searingly honest first-person accounts of discrimination and
Mikhael Subotzky makes the cut for his monumental book Ponte City, a collaboration with the
British editor of Colors magazine
Patrick Waterhouse, which looks at life in a towerblock of the same name in
Johannesburg – the tallest residential building in the whole country.
Mikhael Subotzky’s Ponte City
The annual £30,000 prize is awarded to a photographer whose
work has “significantly contributed to photography in Europe” in the past year.
Interestingly, both Muholi and Subotzky are politically committed artists and
have been nominated for books rather than shows (though an exhibition of Ponte
City has just opened at the National Galleries of Scotland).
While this year’s Deutsche Börse reflects the importance of
the photobook in contemporary photography, one of today’s most distinctive bookmakers,
Viviane Sassen, has been nominated for an exhibition, Umbra, held at the
Nederlands Fotomuseum last summer.
Made up of abstract photography, drawings
and installations, and accompanied by poems written by Maria Barnas, it
highlighted Sassen’s signature use of vividly contrasting colours and geometric
The fourth and most surprising nominee is the 68-year-old
Russian photographer Nikolay Bakharev, a former mechanic.
As ever, the shortlist will be debated as much for who was
left out – Lorenzo Vitturi, for instance, whose book Dalston Anatomy is a
vibrant and wildly imaginative ode to Hackney’s Ridley Road market. That said,
the nominees do reflect the range of styles and subject matter of contemporary
photography – and it is good to see some socially engaged photography here.
(Muholi co-founded the black lesbian activist group The Forum For the
Empowerment of Women, and made the award-winning documentary Difficult Love in 2010.)
Though it is well-nigh impossible to second-guess the DB
jury, Subotzky and Waterhouse are surely strong contenders, if only for the
extraordinary ambition involved in Ponte City. It took six years to make,
during which they photographed every resident, every door, the view from every
window and every TV in the 54-storey building – as well as sorting through the
trash for evidence of the lives lived there. My money’s on Sassen, though, who
is the most intuitively gifted artist on the shortlist, with an unerring eye
for colour and form. She makes strikingly beautiful books and ambitious
exhibitions – one of which, Analemma:
Fashion Photography 1992-2012, is currently on at the Photographers’
Gallery in London.
One thing is certain: come next May, the workings of the DB
jury will remain, as ever, an utter mystery to the rest of us.
Works by the
shortlisted photographers will be exhibited at the Photographers’ Gallery from
17 April to 7 June 2015. The winner will be announced on 28 May 2015.
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