Laura El-Tanawy UK born to Egyptian parents produced In the Shadows of the Pyramids a mixture of images from the build up and during 2011 revolution with old family photographs.
I found this exhibit by far the most powerful, dramatic and moving from the first static screen showing electric reds and yellows mixed with the dark blurred shadows of people in a night shot of a riot-hit town square to the family photos into the two juxtaposed TV screens which each showed a massive bank of dramatic images in constant slideshow mode over-played with two soundtracks one which fed a constant stream of people talking and one which had a tense industrial rhythm beat of noise.
Maybe it was voyeuristic in looking at a spectacle but I found the images combined with the cinematic combination of soundtracks and multiple large screen presentations powerful in every respect. Mainly shot in the evenings depicting people and groups engaged in protests and under siege with slightly blurred images with striking almost neon colours of black and red with yellow and white lights piercing throughout it was very dramatic documentary / reportage and was at the time my choice for the prize.
Tobias Zielony German artist shortlisted for his work The Citizen, which shows the struggles of refugee activists living in Europe.
I really liked this work as it told a different story to that which is heavily represented throughout the media in the Western world. There were no images of lifeboats or refugee camps but people living with in the shadows with little hope and no resources or support.
The images were in large frames and compositions were a mixture of images of straight portraits or scenes of people and more artistic and metaphorical images together creating a narrative read on several levels. Some of the large white gallery frames contained smaller and or split images which gave a sense of displacement and of not fitting and I found this both effective and moving.
There were a range of techniques used in terms of depth of field and focal points but overall there was a consistent use of colour and many of the images were evening or night shots with darkness and lights creating a quiet yet dramatic sombreness.
The work was supported by a newspaper which contained letters, articles and interviews with the refugees and told first hand accounts of their lives, journeys, their thoughts about their plight and their futures. This material was a stark contrast to the narrow often sensationalist reporting of similar subject matter produced by mainstream media.
Whilst the main subject seemed to be the activists movements within the refugees I didn’t really get a sense of this but the work was extremely sensitive, compassionate and altogether very poignant. Whilst I really liked the work I could see that it might be regarded as too simple to win the prize with all of the other finalists going over and beyond what was largely a straight documentary photographic entry.
Trevor Paglen an American artist and trained geologist short-listed for his work The Octopus exploring a range of issues relating to environmental issues, technology and data collection, surveillance and military.
I found the work interesting from the perspective that there were a range of methods and mediums employed such as photography, maps, neon displays etc but I did n’t find the subject particularly interesting and the concept of pictures of drones etc to highlight secret military installations etc almost felt a little clichéd or at least the form (of the images) had been done before.
Overall the presentation looked like a very sophisticated geography or geology presentation and whilst I could see and appreciate the quality of work especially the large format photographic images I found the presentation a little too technical for my liking.
Erik Kessels a Dutch artist was short-listed for his work Unfinished Father showing in intimate photographic and physical detail his father’s last unfinished car restoration project which effectively becomes the metaphor for was Kessels describes as his un-finished relationship with his father.
Whilst obviously a very personal and poignant project by using the car as the single metaphor I felt that the work became quite narrow and introspective.
Overall as a prize for contribution to photography I can begin to see how Trevor Paglen’s The Octopus could be regarded as more multi-disciplinary and contemporary in style and therefore making a greater contribution to developing the medium of photography.
Maybe it’s where I am right now in my appreciation and understanding that I was only able to put Trevor Paglen into my third choice with both the reportage/documentary projects of Laura El-Tanawy and Tobias Zielony impressing more.
Bramley, EV. (2016) Trevor Paglen’s drone photography wins 2016 Deutsche Borse Prize In: The Guardian (online) At: