Nominations are out for Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2015

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Africa figures large in the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2015, with nominations for South African photographers Mikhael Subotzky and Zanele Muholi, and for Viviane Sassen, a Dutch photographer who was raised in Kenya and chooses to make work on the continent.

Subotzky is nominated for his collaboration with UK born editor and artist Patrick Waterhouse, however, while Russian photographer Nikolai Bakharev completes the four-strong shortlist. Works by the shortlisted photographers will be exhibited at The Photographers’ Gallery in London from 17 April until 07 June 2015 before going to the MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt; the winner of the £30,000 prize will be announced at The Photographers’ Gallery at an awards ceremony on 28 May 2015.

Image-makers are nominated for the annual prize for specific bodies of work exhibited or published in Europe over the preceding 12 months; this year Sassen (b. 1972) – whose fashion photography is currently on show at The Photographers’ Gallery – has been nominated for her exhibition Umbra, shown at Nederlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam from 08 March until 01 June 2014. Bakharev (b. 1946) has been nominated for his exhibition at the 55th Biennale of Art in Venice from 01 June until 24 November 2013; Subotzky and Waterhouse (both b. 1981) are nominated for their publication Ponte City, published by Steidl; and Muholi (b. 1972) for Faces and Phases 2006 – 2014, also published by Steidl.

The organisers state that the shortlist this year “reflects a diversity of attitudes towards the medium, underpinned by an exploration into new and unexpected modes of presentation incorporating video, text, object and wall-based photographic displays”. Sassen’s exhibition encompassed abstract photography, drawings and light installations, for example, while the images were accompanied by specially commissioned poems from artist and poet Maria Barnas. Subotzky and Waterhouse’s Ponte City focuses on the eponymous 54-floor apartment block in Johannesburg, which was built in 1976 for white ‘sophisticates’ under the apartheid regime but subsequently fell into disrepair and became a supposed epicentre for crime, prostitution and drug dealing. The pair worked with the remaining community of residents, and their publication includes images, text and a sequence of booklets containing essays and personal stories from them.

Muholi describes herself as a “visual activist”, meanwhile, and her black-and-white portraits come out of her work on LGBTI rights in post-apartheid South Africa. Her images are accompanied by first-person testimonies that reflect the impact of homophobia, discrimination and violence – most notably the ‘curative rape’ of black gay women, which often results in murder. Bakharev trained as a mechanic in Soviet Russia before working as a Communal Services Factory photographer in the 1960s; his portraits of bathers on Russian public beaches were mostly shot during the 1980s, when taking and circulating photographs containing nudity was strictly forbidden. The families and couples he depicts are wearing bathing suits and seem to be posing willingly, but the images contain an undercurrent of subterfuge and eroticism nonetheless, according to the Deutsche Börse organisers.

The Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2015 was judged by Chris Boot, executive director of the Aperture Foundation; Rineke Dijkstra, artist; Peter Gorschlüter, deputy director of the MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst; and Anne Marie Beckmann, curator of the Art Collection Deutsche Börse. Brett Rogers, director of The Photographers’ Gallery, was non-voting chair of the jury. “This year’s shortlist reflects a diversity of attitudes towards the medium, underpinned by an exploration into new and unexpected modes of presentation incorporating video, text, object and wall-based photographic displays,” comments Rogers.

“The tension between public and private as a point of enquiry is reflected in the work of Nikolai Bakharev, whose images of Russian bathers on public beaches in the 1980s and ’90s expose the particular political hypocrisy around what constituted permitted imagery in the former USSR. Similarly in the work of Zanele Muholi, the personal and political become interwoven in her tender, unflinching portraits and testimonies of the South African LGBTI community. South Africa also features as a location and point of political departure in the work of Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse. Their collaborative publication presents a ‘photo/graphic’ album of images and texts, ranging from the lyrical to the raw document, uncovering the history of a once elite, now abandoned, highrise apartment block in Johannesburg. And, finally, Viviane Sassen’s sculptural, abstracted, sensual images continue to effect the blurring of genres, which characterise her work and position her as a leading force in contemporary art photography.”

This annual prize was established by The Photographers’ Gallery in 1997, and has been run in partnership with Deutsche Börse Group since 2005. Prior to that, it was known as the Citigroup Photography Prize. The winner last year was Richard Mosse for his exhibition Enclave at the 55th Biennale of Art in Venice. Past winners include Paul Graham, Juergen Teller, Rineke Dijkstra, Richard Billingham and John Stezaker.

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Diane Smyth

Diane Smyth is a freelance journalist who contributes to publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, The FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, The Calvert Journal, Aperture, FOAM, IMA, Aesthetica and Apollo Magazine. Prior to going freelance, she wrote and edited at BJP for 15 years. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. You can follow her on instagram @dismy