Michael Danner wins the Fotobookfestival Kassel Dummy Award

Michael Danner’s book project Migration as Avant-Garde has won the prestigious Dummy Award at the Fotobookfestival Kassel. His mock-up will now be produced and published by Kettler, Germany, the company behind Mathieu Asselin’s hit book Monsanto: A Photographic Investigation.

Born in Reutlingen, Germany in 1967, Danner studied photography at Fachhochschule Bielefeld in Germany and the University of Brighton in the UK, and lived in London from 1997 to 2000. He’s now based in Berlin, where he lectures in photography at the Berliner Technische Kunsthochschule. He has previously published three monographs and seven artist’s books.

His project “examines the new ways in which migrants are pursuing their hope for a better life”, he states, adding: “The term ‘avant-garde’ stands for progress and the way of a pioneer. Driven by the desire to give their lives meaning, and guided by their own integrity, migrants bring new perspectives and points of view to our society. The origin of his work was the reading of a 1943 text by the philosopher Hannah Arendt.”

Migration as Avant-Garde by Michael Danner (DE), winner of the Fotobookfestival Kassel Dummy Award 2018

In his project, Danner shows “first and foremost” the people who migrate from their homes, but also “those that influence, prevent, channel, or impact a migrant’s humanity”, including border police and those working for the state. In addition to these portraits, his project includes quotes from Arendt, archive images of refugees and satellite imagery from crisis regions. “These depict an even wider spectrum of actors,” he states, “which are interlaced to create a complete system”.

The second prize in the Dummy Award went to Karim El Maktafi for his project Hayati [which means ‘my life’ in Arabic]. Shot entirely on a smart phone, the project reflects on El Maktafi’s identity as a second-generation immigrant, born in Italy to Moroccan parents. “Growing up between two worlds forced me to sharpen my gaze and to compare these perspectives which often diverge from each other,” says El Maktafi, who was born in 1992, graduated from the Italian Institute of Photography in Milan in 2013, and was awarded a year-long scholarship at Fabrica in early 2016.

“Embracing a single identity is not easy; feeling out of place or like an odd cultural hybrid often happens. Yet, while trying to define this identity, one understands the privilege of standing on a doorstep’ at the edge of two environments. One can decide who to be, where to belong, or to create new ties, while keeping alive the experiences learnt along the path.”

Hayati by Karim El Maktafi (IT/MA), which won second prize

Third prize went to Filippo Romano for the dummy Water Tanks in Mathare Slum, shot in a community in Nairobi, Kenya he’s been visiting since 2011. Born in 1968, Romano studied at the International Center of Photography in New York, and shoots both architecture and documentary photography. He has exhibited his work in venues such as the Canadian Center for Architecture CCA and Sao Paulo Art Museum, and published in architectural books and magazines.

Founded in 2010, the Fotobookfestival Kassel Dummy Award is a prestigious part of the festival programme, judged by an international jury which this year included publishers Valentina Abenavoli (Akina Books) and Pierre Bessard (Editions Bessard), photographers JH Engström, Susan Meiselas, and Dana Lixenberg, and editor Salvatore Vitale (YET Magazine).

The three winners were selected from a long-list of 53 book dummies, all of which were on show at the Fotobookfestival Kassel, which ran from 31 May-03 June. The dummies will now go on show at festivals such as the Hamburg Triennial of Photography from 07-17 June, Organ Vida – International Photography Festival, Zagreb from 10-16 September, and Tokyo Art Book Fair in spring 2019.


Hayati by Karim El Maktafi (IT/MA), which won second prize
Hayati by Karim El Maktafi (IT/MA), which won second prize
Hayati by Karim El Maktafi (IT/MA), which won second prize
Water Tanks in Mathare Slum by Filippo Romano (IT), which won third prize
Water Tanks in Mathare Slum by Filippo Romano (IT), which won third prize
Diane Smyth

Diane Smyth is the editor of BJP, returning for a second stint on staff in 2023 - after 15 years on the team until 2019. As a freelancer, she has written for The Guardian, FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, Aperture, FOAM, Aesthetica and Apollo. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. You can follow her on instagram @dismy