Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2009

The Deutsche Börse Photography Prize exhibition is now on at Ramillies Street and it’s a pretty strong line-up this year fully doing justice to the more spacious accommodation the Photographers’ Gallery now has to show it off.

Unlike in previous years there’s a certain sameyness in the works of the four shortlisted photographers – no one jars or stands out (or makes you go, “What the bloody hell?”). There’s Paul Graham who is here for A Shimmer of Possibility – an intriguing collection of images that capture moments in half-light or actions that seem to have purpose and meaning in ways that aren’t explained. Seemingly more straightforward is Tod Papageorge whose record shots of Central Park that capture all the wild eccentricity of New York with humour and a sharp eye. Both are examples of the kind of photography that looks easy to construct but given that in Papageorge’s case it’s the accumulation of 22 years wandering with a camera let’s assume it actually isn’t.

The weakest on the list to my eye, and so therefore the one who will obviously win, is Emily Jacir, a Palestinian photographer (according to Wikipedia, the guide has her down as Kuwaiti) who with Material for a Film brings together documents, images and assorted items linked to the assassination of Wael Zwaiter. I’m sure it has significance in terms of Arab-Israeli politics but here it fails to spark and seems too laboured – although a short but revealing telegram sent after Zwaiter’s death does carry an emotional wallop.

My personal favourite is Taryn Simon, returning to the Photographers Gallery with An American Index of the Hidden and Familiar featuring beautifully shot images of inbred white tigers, braille Playboys and the CIA art gallery – whose mystery is explained by the lovingly structured text next to each photo. I’m not sure I buy the argument that it creates an American mythology but these are pictures and stories you want to go back to again and again.

So, well worth heading over to the Photographers’ Gallery for, especially given that it’s free and they do nice coffee.


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