Beyond capture: Hamburg Hall of Contemporary Art explores the many meanings of currency

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Via the work of 29 photographers, Currency: Photography Beyond Capture considers capitalism, community and the ways in which the camera has trained us to see

In its most prevalent use, ‘currency’ is an economic term – a word used to measure the health of a national or regional economy or the speculative value of material goods. However, when associated with visual culture, the phrase becomes far more closely tied to cultural capital. And, when deployed by the curators of Currency: Photography Beyond Capture, it invites a critical engagement with canon-making, mediation, translation and visuality.

“People don’t send each other sculptures, they send each other photos,” says the exhibition’s co-curator, Rasha Salti. “Since the twentieth century, photography has been an integral part of social life; it is intimately connected to the history of capitalism. Therefore ‘currency’ is also about value-making, it’s about circulation, it’s about perceptions and how they shape relationships.”

Cecilia Reynoso Gaviota serving desert, The Flowers Family, 2014

These varied interpretations of ‘currency’ – the overarching theme of this year’s Triennial of Photography Hamburg – can be seen throughout the works of Photography Beyond Capture’s 29 photographers. Housed in one of the triennial’s most imposing venues, Hamburg’s Hall of Contemporary Art, images mounted simply on cork boards span the traditions of documentary and fine art photography, portraiture and mixed media.

The curation of these images, explains co-curator Koyo Kouoh, differs from what she describes as the “usual suspect” way of curating, instead binding distinct voices together through curatorial juxtaposition. “We organised the exhibition in different sections that include experimental processes and modes of display, poetics, sensory approaches,” she says. “But also emphasising social relations, portrayals of community from within, the idea of a countercanon, and forms of counter-mapping.”

Clifford Prince King, Z (long hair portrait), 2020
Ashfikab Rahman, The Power Box, 05

“We’ve been thinking together about how these works deconstruct or challenge the representational value of the photographic image”

Though far from the exhibition’s largest installation, among the most striking portrayals of community are Clifford Prince King’s initmite images of Black queer men. These softly focused and lovingly captured images push back against stereotypes of race, gender and sexuality, with King’s familial gaze offering a glimpse inside his world of friends and lovers. Here the concept of currency can be seen in the proximity of King to his subjects – their shared connection offering a form of emotional exchange.

Meanwhile, in another corner of the cavernous hall, images from Ashfika Rahman’s series power box explore currency – both visually and conceptually – in a very different way. The typological body of work highlights the important role of the small and simple television, in the lives of marginal communities in Bangladesh’s largest wetlands. Here information – available only via one state-owned channel – is itself the currency, used to buy influence over those living what the photographer describes as otherwise monotonous lives.

Akinbode Akinbiyi, Lagos, All Roads, 2006
Rasha Salti, Gabriella Beckhurst Feijoo und Koyo Kouoh, Kurator*innen der Ausstellung © Philipp Meuser Copyright: © Philipp Meuser

Despite these photographers’ varying styles, subjects and approaches, their work is bound together by the ways in which they engage with photography. Throughout the far-ranging exhibition, works by photographers aged 30 to 90, and hailing from all areas of the world, are drawn together by the conversation of currency – and by the input of a total of four curators.

We’ve been thinking together about how these works deconstruct or challenge the representational value of the photographic image,” says co-curator Gabriella Beckhurst Feijoo. “Setting up the conditions for another kind of portraiture, another kind of landscape genre, or another kind of documentary practice that is very much forged through connection and proximity, and in thinking about how the camera has trained us to see in certain ways.”

Currency: Photography Beyond Capture is on show at the Hall of Contemporary Art, Hamburg, until 18 September 2022.