This is my learning log for the OCA Ditigal Photographic Practice course

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Study Visit – Prix Pictet at the Saatchi Gallery

"The global award in photography and sustainability" is the description we have to go on. This years' theme is "Power". From the work on display the multiple interpretations of the word have been shown, whether is the power of nature, the use and misuse of political power, power shown by the use and misuse of resources. There is a very broad interpretation of the brief. All of the work on display included one or more of these interpretations.

From the website, it appears there were 12 photographers short-listed. I won’t discuss the work of each, only those whose images provoked discussion amongst the group. There are 10 images in each portfolio but not every image in each one was selected for display. This may have been a limit of available space or some other factor. It did seem odd that only a handful of the images by Luc Delahaye were shown.

The introduction to the study visit posed some questions:

Who would you choose to be the winner and more importantly, why?

Not knowing the criteria that the judges were using and bearing in mind that entry to the prize competition was by invitation only, choosing a winner would not be that easy. By inviting entries from established photographers, perhaps the competition starts with a short-list? I can see more merit in some work than in others.

If I make my judgement on the basis of the portfolio that make me think the most about power and the abuse of power then, Guantanamo by Edmund Clark. I'm assuming that censorship prevented Clark from showing any of the inmates. Their absence from the pictures speaks volumes. Very little else needs to be said. However, the sustainability portion of the brief is not obvious to me (thinking environment rather than human rights)

If I was to choose a winner based on visual impact and appeal, then Daniel Beltra’s Oil Spill series represents the danger of our greed for power (energy) to the sustainability of our environment.

Do you agree that it is odd that Luc Delahaye is the winner?

In some respects, yes. The content of his submission seems, on first sight, a bit hit and miss in comparison with the other photographers themes.  At a second look had me searching for a clear pattern or contrast (theme) amongst his images without success I then looked at his artist's statement and I understood that he was interested in the narrative of ordinary people taking collective action either in tragic circumstances  or actions that can lead to tragedy. He concludes with these words;

"It's clear that I don’t really photograph the world as it is, but either as it should not be – hardship – or as it should be – man restored to history, an uncertain destiny yet a possibility of fellowship."

Having read this I could identify his interpretation of the theme, Power.

The 132nd Ordinary Meeting of the Conference (OPEC Vienna)  prompted a lot of discussion amongst the group. It is enigmatic in that what appears to be a press conference seems to be very lively. I looked up the OPEC documents for the meeting but I am no scholar of the politics of oil production but at this meeting there was an agreement to raise production levels to stabilise the price of oil and a resolution to hold the next ordinary meeting in Iran. So what was it that prompted what appears to be such great excitement? Perhaps amongst oil pundits, that is enough.

Of the 10 images shown, my favourite is "Les Pillards" showing looters in Port au Prince Haiti. Classic narrative, context and a decisive moment. A fraction of a second later and the expressions on the looter's faces would be lost.

Mohamed Bouroussia's images "Periferique" also provoked discussion. In particular, we talked about the image; Le Cercle Imaginaire . and discussed what was happening in the picture. Bouroussia stages his images in the suburbs where he grew up in France. Various interpretations of the image from the group included an attempt at intimidation or some sort of initiation. Clive White reiterated that we should attempt  to make our images ambiguous to promote discussion. You need to raise a question in the mind of the viewer. This is borne out in this extract from the artist's statement; ...."all becomes a theatre that juxtaposes ambiguity, disquiet and a latent, if dormant violence." I was intrigued by another of his images, Le Reflet showing a figure huddled in front of a pile of old TVs. In one you can see his reflection and that of two other men in the background. You instinctively want to know what is happening. A closer look a the pile of sets shows that at least two are connected to a power supply, you wonder why? Is this man selling recycled TVs or is this an allegory for a broken society?

Apart from Edmund Clark's submission, there were three other portfolios which were marked by an absence of human figures but not without evidence of human action. Rena Effendi's "Still Life in the Zone", a play on words, has a haunting quality. I'm reminded of the feeling I got as a teenager reading post apocalyptic science fiction novels such as Level Seven by Mordecai Roshwald and On the Beach by Neville Shute which contain descriptions of radiation ravaged landscapes as humanity slides irrevocably towards annihilation, haunting definitely but in this case, not without hope. The second portfolio is Phillippe Chancel's Fukushima, an almost clinical presentation of scenes of destruction after the Japanese Tsunami, complete with Google earth views of each location. Here is the power of natural forces putting mankind in its place, brushing us aside like an irritant. The third portfolio we discussed was that of Jacqueline Hassink, "Arab Domains" in which she presents a glimpse of the boardroom and dining room tables of powerful female business leaders from Arab states. While the motivation and purpose behind the series was interesting and commendable  the photographs weren't. I've seen more interesting furniture catalogues. Without the lengthy, wordy explanations from the artist or Charlotte Cotton, I wouldn't have a clue what the series was about. The series failed to engage me. A comment from overheard from one of  the other students/tutors was how remarkably similar the boardrooms were to the dining rooms. Does that mean that the boardrooms were homely or the dining rooms were business like?

Another portfolio which we discussed was "29 Palms" by An-My Le. This caught my interest as it was one of two submissions solely in black and white and it involved military training, something which happens close to my home and which I have a peripheral  interest as an MOD employee in the Army Education Service. While found the images a bit pedestrian, the photographers' method of using a large format plate camera removed her from the "action" and she undertook the documentation of the live firing exercises much in the same way as Brady and Fenton on the battlefields of Crimea and the American Civil War  in the 19th century. I liked the impact of the  image  Night Operations III and curiously realistic graffiti on the buildings in  the Security and Stabilisation Operations, Graffiti. At this point I had an idea to pursue a project on the SEME Recovery Training area, subject to clearance and safety permissions. An idea  to develop for the future.

This was a very worthwhile study visit which I found interesting. I think I have learned a lot about how to look and and appraise images. Certainly a great improvement on my engagement with my first study visit earlier this year.