Growth. Sustainability. Globalisation. *YAWN*

The Prix Pictet has only been around for three years – and yet has managed to become one of the most well known photography prizes in the world. That – no doubt – probably on the back of a generous prize money of 100.000 Swiss Francs (€ 82.000) and its contextualisation with one of the buzzwords of the 21st century: “sustainability”. Yes, my eyes kind of glaze over, when I happen upon one of those yawn-inducing vogue words/vague words. And what exactly is the connection of sustainability and photography? Sure,  100.000 Swiss Francs are probably well capable of sustaining a photographer for a while… But otherwise?
Eco jargon taken aside, the current Prix Pictet exhibition “Growth” is touring the world, and since December 2011 it has been on show in Dublin’s Gallery of Photography. Stifling the yawn, I went in to take the opportunity of seeing some big names of international art photography exhibiting in our own town, Christian Als, Vera Lutter, Nyaba Leon Ouedraogo, Thomas Struth and more.
The exhibited artists were all shortlisted for the 2011 Prix Pictet. The winning entry is Mitch Epstein’s body of work “American Power”. An impressive visual documentation of the effects of consumerism on his native America, Epstein found vistas which contrasted the presence of monumental industrial plants beside evidence of nature, sustainable living *yawn* and renewable energy *zzzz*. – What? Where? Who? Sorry, must have fallen asleep there. And that’s a bit mean, because Epstein’s images are far from boring. They are well composed and brilliantly evocative. It’s just… haven’t we seen all this before?
I was certainly much more excited by some of the other projects on show. Take Vera Lutter’s “Body of work” for instance. Yes, the title of her body of work is body of work. And that is not a printer’s mistake, but appropriate when you look at the images: Lutter went around photographing industrial growth, i.e. she photographs industrial scenes, industrial plants, factories. Her technical concept is interesting, though – her images are captured by pinhole photography. What an amazing contrast: the simplest and most basic form of photography that anyone could replicate with a box, a piece of film and a bit of tape. And this juxtaposed with the accomplishments of 21st century industry. The resulting images are negatives, of course, and she displays them as such. Particularly her inside view of a zeppelin plant had me transfixed: Wonderful detail and clarity – and a zeppelin vanishing in thin air… (Presumably the airship must have been moved while she was exposing via pinhole, hence the incomplete image.)
Own pinhole experiment, 2009
Yeondoo Jung’s project “Evergreen Tower” had me transfixed. Possibly because the accompanying slide show was hypnotical with its slow transits from image to image. Jung took family portraits in a residential tower block in Seoul. The flats inside the tower are identical. The people and their lives are not. And maybe just because he is placing the camera always in the same spot, facing the balcony windows, taking a straight-on shot of the boxy living rooms, the differences between the flats and the people are highlighted. It is amazing how much you can deduce from one glimpse at a family’s apartment – and one split second of their lives. At least that they all favour a certain make of sideboard…
“Architecture of Density” by Michael Wolf had me in goosepimples and in thrall in equal measure. Wonderfully abstract and graphic, the images by Wolf depict a monotony of concrete towerblocks, multi-storey, all regular lines, all angles, all lifeless. Or really? Taken in Hong Kong, Wolf shows the most densely populated area of the world. The high-rise buildings appear uninhabited. Only upon closer inspection there are signs of life: washing lines in front of the windows, curtains, air conditioning. I was actually delighted to even spot a human being in the photograph entitled aod #43. And even more so when I realised that it depicts a man looking through binoculars. How wonderful is that – the process of spying being captured on film while spying. Beautiful and thought-provoking.
There are more noteworthy projects in the exhibition – but instead of boring everyone to tears here, I suggest you head down to the gallery yourselves. You must hurry up – it is on until January 15th, only!
Prix Pictet – “Growth”
Gallery of Photography
’til Jan 15th, 2012.
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