Prix Pictet at the Saatchi Gallery
OCA Study Visit : 20th October, 2012
I’m late getting around to writing this up but here goes:-
- Gain a personal perspective on the work of photographers shortlisted
- Reflect on the expereience of seeing photography in a gallery
- Network with other OCA students
Suggestions for looking and reading were to look at the shortlist on the Prix Pictet website ; look at Luc Delahaye’s work on the Guardian website and read what Sean O’Hagan had to say in the Guardian here
The Prix Pictet – information summarised from the website
The first prize was inaugerated in 2008 and operates on an approximate 18 month cycle. It is sponsored by Pictet & Cie the private bank in Geneva which was founded in 1805; has focused solely on managing the wealth of private and institutional investors and was a pioneer in the field of institutional asset management. The prize, “aims to uncover photographs that communicate important messages about global environment and social issues within the broad theme of sustainability”. Different years have had different themes and the theme for this year was Power.
I found entry requirements to be rather ambiguous. Although it is stated that entry is by nomination (from a long list of leading experts who can nominate up to 5 photographers) information also stated that photographers not nominated, but wishing to submit work for consideration, are invited to contact the Secretariat. Once submitted the independent jury draw up a shortlist and select the winner. The jury are looking for work with a high artistic quality and considerable narrative power and no preference is given to any particular genre or technique or “different potential type of audience for any class of photograph” etc. I think that’s a very egalitarian approach. There was no indication I could find on who nominated which photographers and whether any of the photographers had nominated themselves.
It was lovely, as ever, to meet up with OCA staff and students and debate/compare impressions and views. On this occasion I didn’t experience that kind of confusion which occurred on my previous visit to the Out of Focus Exhibition at the Saatchi. The images seemed more straight-forward to me and I understood the concepts behind them in relation to Power in some of its many guises.
I’m not going to go through all the images and photographers short-listed but choose a selection I found particularly interesting. I contacted Prix Pictet via Candlestar and have their permission to download images from their site with full captions and credit to the artist.
I’m currently reading Visual Methodolgies(2012) by Gillian Rose. She is a professor of culture at the Open University and I gather that her background is in geography and her current research interests are within the field of visual culture. Her staff profile “I am interested in visuality as a kind of practice, done by human subjects in collaboration with different kinds of objects and technologies” . Prof Rose also has a blog here .
Visual Methodologies looks at ways of researching visual materials and outlines her criteria for a visual critical methodology:-
Visual imagery is never innocent; it is always constructed through various practices, technologies and knowledges. A critical approach to visual images is therefore needed: one that thinks about the agency of the image, considers the social practices and effects of its viewing, and reflects on the specificity of that viewing by various audiences, including the academic critic. (Summary p.17)
I have kept this in mind in thinking about this Exhibition.
Luc Delahaye – The winner
Sean O’Hagan described Delahaye as a controversial winner here. I’m not sure why exactly. Is it because he now considers himself as an art photographer rather than a photojournalist; the scale, detail and detachment of his images, the prices they bring or that his work “willfully blurs the line between reportage and art, with all the underlying contradictions that suggests”.
I found an earlier piece by O’Hagan regarding Delahaye and war photography and an Exhibition at Tate Modern in 2011. This again commented on the blurring between reportage and art; the scale and the sense of detachment. I noted that O’Hagan is one of the nominators for the Prize – presumably he didn’t nominate Delahaye.
Delahaye was awarded the Prize for various works, all concerned with issues of power. This one commanded my attention the most and not just because of its size.
Prix Pictet Power Winner – Luc Delahaye
132nd Ordinary Meeting of the Conference 15 September 2004, OPEC Headquarters, Vienna, Austria
The image is very large and has a much more powerful effect seen in its actuality as opposed to on a computer monitor where its chiaroscuro effect comes over more as murky rather than a shadow play of light and dark (the work has been likened to those by Caravaggio) . Certainly, overall, there is an impression of shadowy politics, power-plays and deals done in private at a time when world oil prices were soaring (and continued to do so). Is this about the power of the press who can bring such practices to light or on the power of the oil nations? The press are really the ones in Delahaye’s focus here as they thrust microphones into faces and lean over the table. Going back to the power issue – if it’s about the power of the media then what did they achieve here?
I spent quite some time pondering over the point of view – how large was the room; where was Delahaye standing; who were these people at the back; were there any women there? I wondered what the room was like to such an extent that I did a web search to see if I could find other images of the event. Here is a different view from an earlier conference of that year where you can see the dimensions of the room.
I also discovered an image similar to Delahaye’s taken by Joe Klamar (of the 2012 Olympic Athletes portraits fame) which is on the Getty images site – Image No. 51309330 – taken from a similar vantage point but narrower focus. (the link is too long to include under References)
Daniel Beltra : Spill
Beltra took photographs from 3000 feet above following the April 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Daniel Beltrá Oil Spill #4: Oil mixed with dispersant rises up to the surface near one of the relief wells.
Series: Spill 18 May, 2010 Gulf of Mexico, United States
The images are beautiful in themselves, despite the devastation caused by the spill, and I know disquiet has been expressed regarding making the ugly beautiful. Of course I understand that but, on the other hand, oil has no intent to harm or consciousness (so far as I’m aware). It just ‘is’. It’s the uses and misuses it’s put to that can cause the damage. In the series as a whole, Beltra has recorded the devastation and how the environment has suffered – see his website here but those images weren’t exhibited at the Saatchi.
Edmund Clark – Guantanamo : If the Light Goes Out
This series explores the spaces and objects of power and control at Guantanamo. He also followed this up with a series Control Order House (exhibited recently at the Brighton Photo Biennial http://lighthouse.org.uk/programme/monthly-talk-edmund-clark , where he photographed one of the released Guantanamo inmates back in the UK and subject to a variety of restrictions upon his ability to move freely.
Edmund Clark Camp Six, Mobile Force-Feeding Chair
Series: Guantanamo: If the Light Goes Out 2009 Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility, Cuba
The images are stark and there are no people. It was a strange experience, because looking at these images took me back to other places. I immediately thought of the electric chair which is still used in some US States. The chair also reminded me of a visit a year ago to our local Lightbox Gallery, Woking. One of the permanent displays concerns Brookwod Hospital – and changing attitudes towards mental health. The hospital is now closed and replaced by care in the community, on which I shall abstain from comment, and also a fairly large private housing estate. In one of the display cases there is a replica of a ‘whirling chair’ used as an early treatment for schizophrenia, and to tranquillize patients. I feel dizzy thinking about it and can only imagine the effect on those poor souls.
I watched a video podcast on the World Photography Organisation site where Clark is interviewed by Keley Sweeney. The link was in the December 2012 Newsletter which I now can’t find but, thankfully, I did make notes. In the podcast Clark explains that the underlying concept in the Guantanamo series was to fine a new way of looking and conveying the disorientation and dislocation experienced by the inmates without displaying the face of a detainee. He is asked about the restrictions he had to deal with and explains how he explained his intentions to the authorities. He had to use a digital camera and the photographs were reviewed at the end of the day. Disorientation of inmates was central in the Guantanamo regime as a means of control and part of the way he conveyed this was to have mixed-up images in his book. So far as the follow-on was concerned in Control Order House Clark said that these men were innocent but the dehumanization and demonization remained. He wanted to look at the normality and ordinariness of their domestic space so as to present a mirror to bounce preconceptions back at the viewer and provide a way of bringing the experience closer to their own experience. I won’t write more here but, apparently, the book is due out this New Year.
Camp Six Unused communal area
This one reminded me of a visit to Broadmoor Hospital some years ago when we were shown some new cells. All the fittings were fixed to the floor, made of either stainless steel or plastic and had smooth/rounded corners so that they couldn’t be used as weapons or for self-harm. Overall, looking at all the images reminded me of the uses of various forms of detention and what goes on behind locked doors that we might suspect but shut off in our minds somewhere.
Rena Effendi : Still Life in theZone
Gas masks scattered on the floor of a school lobby in the abandoned city of Prypiat. As a result of the nuclear accident and the subsequent radioactive fallout the entire population of Prypiat had been evacuated and never returned home.
Series: Still Life in the Zone December 2010 Chernobyl, Ukraine
A while before the Exhibition visit I had read an interview of Rena Effendi by OCA tutor Sharon Boothroyd recorded in her blog Photoparley . At one point Sharon asks Effendi, “Do you think being a woman has influenced how you take pictures”. I would really have been interested in a direct answer to this but one isn’t exactly forthcoming. Instead, part of the response is
“I think that acknowledging the fact that you are not in control is very humbling for both men and for women….I have found that what interests me most is these tender human moments in the face of disaster or brutal life experience”
This series uses still life images to convey the long term effects of this nuclear accident and also the way in which the human spirit can survive. Effendi’s Artist’s Statement informs us that the ‘Zone of Alienation’ – the area around that which is restricted, has a population of 200 people, mainly elderly women. What is it that would make these women choose to return? Also, I’m going to have to remember to keep this question of differences between male and female photographers in mind.
I enjoyed the Exhibition. It made me think around the issues involved in what was being depicted, without having to go through confusion and frustration as to the underlying artistic concepts. Maybe I’m too simplistic or maybe it’s because I do have leanings towards photo-documentary. Although I haven’t been precise about this I do think that I have also followed the sense of Gillian Rose’s methodology
Rose, G (2007) Visual Methodologies, Sage Publications Ltd, London