Review of Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2014, The Photographer’s Gallery, London

Shortlisted with Alberto García-Alix, Jochen Lempert and Lorna Simpson for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2014 was Irish photographer Richard Mosse, who deservingly took home this year’s prize. Mosse was nominated for his exhibition The Enclave at the 55th Venice Biennale commissioned for the Irish Pavillion, featuring a multi-channel video installation created in collaboration with cinematographer Trevor Tweeten and composer Ben Frost. To be experienced in a dark immersive chamber with ambient surround-sounds and seen on several screens, The Enclave is charged with a raw vibrancy and futuristic yet frightening imagery as the 40-minute film captures the “real” in a surreal light.

The Photographer’s Gallery London, did not include The Enclave video installation in its Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2014 exhibition, but instead showed large-scale photographs from his Infra series. Not having previously seen Mosse’s work in person, the photographs on view within the gallery were more beautiful and captivating than expected. Mosse’s photographs alone are impressive for their visual aesthetic: their enchanting lands of pink mountains and blue rivers ostensibly depicting some far-away or imagined utopian place. While this level of skill and execution can arguably be award-winning in itself, it is its intense content regarding the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo and how the artist has portrayed it that propels this work to the next level.

Mosse aptly utilised military technology by shooting his imagery with Kodak Aerochrome, an infrared film originally developed for aerial reconnaissance during World War II. In doing so, the photographer brought Africa’s first world war to the fore with a new perspective; a catastrophic conflict that has seemingly been overlooked despite the loss of over five million lives. The artist went to great lengths to produce this body of work by placing himself in the path of danger, and the extraordinary result marries photojournalism with fine art.

Also on view is the work of the other nominees, including a strong body of work by Spanish photographer Alberto García-Alix, featuring pieces from his publication Autorretrato/Self-Portrait, La Fabrica Editorial (2013). Selected for the exhibition is a black and white video piece with a poetic narrative that has an intriguing romantic, dark and surrealistic appeal that is truly magnetic. His self-portraits are also selected, offering a sincere insight into the artist’s life over several decades, revealing a life of both intimacy and excess, as photography becomes the agent used to arbitrate experiences, fears, neuroses and inner battles.

Nominee Lorna Simpson from the USA has work on view from her exhibition Lorna Simpson (Retrospective) at Jeu de Paume, Paris (2013). Exploring themes of gender, identity, culture, memory and body, she integrates the duality of past and present, word and image. Simpson’s work became more interesting upon a closer look and audiences could identify the old and new images, though one couldn’t help but note the influence of Cindy Sherman upon her output. The work by the fourth nominee, Jochen Lempert, from Germany, did not carry as much impact as the others, both visually and thematically. Lempert’s biology background is evident through his black and white photographs of humans and the natural world. The abstraction and softness of the images was pleasing to view, but it did not provoke a particularly strong response. Overall, the exhibition showcases the diversity within the practice of photography, technically, conceptually, and aesthetically, and most importantly, the presentation demonstrates the power of the art form.

The Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2014, until 22 June, The Photographer’s Gallery, 16 – 18 Ramillies St, London W1F 7LW.

Ashton Chandler

1. Deutsche Börse Prize 2014, Richard Mosse, Safe from Harm, 2012.