Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2011

Moved this year to the warehouse space of Ambika P3 at the University of Westminster the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize in 2011 again shows both the strengths and weaknesses of ‘art photography’ and as ever is likely to provoke strong reactions from those who don’t ‘get it’.

The closure of the Photographers’ Gallery might have put a fatal spanner in the works of this annual showcase of contemporary photography but with a brave face and enviable enthusiasm the exhibition has been moved half a mile away to the University of Westminster on Marylebone Road. It’s not a great space. I’ve been here for sculpture – which it suits – but photography is lost here. But beggars clearly can’t be choosers and at least the busy-ness of the locality should ensure that there’s a fairly decent passing trade during the very short time the exhibition is on (come back in four weeks and it’ll be gone).

But despite the changes the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize is still about four photographers being nominated for an exhibition and this is still a show which gives a partial representation of that nominated work. One is actually a rerun of a previous show at the Photographers’ Gallery itself: Jim Goldberg’s Open See. When I wrote about it in October 2009 I wasn’t sure and I’m still not but condensed here it seems to be more coherent than I remember it being at Ramillies Street. The migrant stories told in various media seem clearer and altogether it is an affecting collection.

I am less convinced by Elad Lassry’s work here. Film and still works are shown which in the words of the guide “effectively merge their representation with their abstraction”. I’m not sure about that. This is not a strong grouping. It lacks coherence and the small scale work is completely lost in Ambika P3. It’s like putting a postage stamp on the side of Tate Modern.

Thomas Demand is the ‘name’ photographer here. His intriguing photographs – which appear to be forensic stuidies of interiors but reveal themselves to be close-ups of recreated models – are pretty well known by now. That’s not to say that what’s here isn’t good or that he shouldn’t win but that there’s nothing that’s particularly ‘fresh’ here.

The last photographer is Roe Ethridge. Because this is a selection it’s hard to get a complete handle on what he apparently does by mixing images that should not sit together but there is at least a glimpse: a pumpkin next to a strangely static thanksgiving shot; a ballerine en pointe next to a macro of a fence. Although I don’t agree that these well-composed and technically perfect images are “making images redundant” I can kinda see what’s being suggested here and I do like the way the grouping hangs together. I’d be happy to see him win.

I hope that when the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize returns to the (by then) reopened Photographers’ Gallery next year that there’s more of a spark to it. It feels a bit pedestrian now, as if by so relentlessly pursuing art and meaning that what makes photography interesting, exciting and unique has been overlooked. That said, if you can go it is worth popping in and seeing for yourself. The Deutsche Börse Photography Prize is still one of the most important public showcases for contemporary photography there is in this country and the Photographers’ Gallery, as ever, needs our support as its esoteric, maddening and adorable home.

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