The re-enactments of Aboriginal history that won the Tokyo International Photography Competition

A series that includes portrait ‘re-enactments’ of archival images of Aboriginal people has won this year’s Tokyo International Photography Competition (TIPC). The Wake: Re-enacting the Spencer & Gillen photographic archive by Danish photographer Christian Vium was selected from eight shortlisted entries to be awarded the Grand Prix.

Vium, who is a photographer, filmmaker and anthropologist, made his winning work in Central Australia between May and June 2014. His aim, he explains, was to creatively respond to the photographic archives of anthropologists and photographers Frank Gillen and Baldwin Spencer, who produced a comprehensive record of aboriginal life between 1875 and 1912. At the time, Vium had been researching the Spencer & Gillen archives at the Victoria Museum in Melbourne via the online digitised collection,

“I wanted to revisit their cardinal work and use it as a point of departure for a contemporary dialogue about how we see and represent ‘the Other’,” says Vium in a statement about his work. “I went into the field with a selection of photographs divided into three categories: the portrait, the monument and the landscape, which I used as the basis for extended photo elicitation with descendants of those people engaged by Spencer and Gillen. Together with inhabitants of the central desert, I wanted to re-enact the old images creatively in the places where they were originally made,” he continues. “I wanted to invite those portrayed to bring their points of view and ideas into the process.”

Vium, who is based in Aarhus, Denmark, adds that his aim was not to “mirror” Spencer and Gillen’s images, but to instead create new photographic works that “distorted them and opened them up to new interpretations.”

“…My main ambition was not to simply produce ‘good images’ but perhaps more so to employ photography as a collaborative and improvisational practice for opening up dialogue,” he says. “Ultimately, I wanted to create a space within which the people in front of the camera were invited, even encouraged, to perform themselves – or a version of themselves.”

A jury of 15 international photography experts, which included South African photographer Roger Ballen, La Fábrica’s Álvaro Matías, and James Estrin of The New York Times’s Lens Blog, shortlisted seven other bodies of work, which will tour internationally alongside Vium’s series. The exhibition will begin in Tokyo in October before travelling to New York, and then to GuatePhoto Festival in Guatemala.

In addition to Vium, the shortlisted photographers are: Arnau Bach (Capital), Laurence Rasti (There are No Homosexuals in Iran), Laurent Chehere (Get Close), Irina Kalashinikova (North Korea. Bearable darkness), Jon Cazenave (Galerna), Daesung Lee (On the Shore of a Vanishing Island), and Dougie Wallace (Glasgow: Second City of The Empire).

Tokyo International Photography Competition (TIPC) is the brainchild of the Tokyo Institute of Photography, which was founded in 2010 to provide “a platform for photographers and photography enthusiasts [and] to support a cross-cultural dialogue between the Eastern and Western photography communities”. It does this through local and international exhibitions, photography workshops, and by offering photographers access to professional digital print labs and studios.

“The launch of the TIPC was the first step of a three-year journey that will soon reach a new milestone with the inauguration of the first edition of the Tokyo International Photography Festival this October, presented by the Tokyo Institute of Photography in cooperation with United Photo Industries of Brooklyn, NY,” explain the organisers on the competition website.

The theme of this year’s competition was ‘The Human Condition’, which asked photographers to consider “what it means to be human.”

Read more about the Tokyo International Photography Competition here and find more of Christian’s work here.

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