Photography is big business now, and there’s none bigger than the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize. Now in its sixteenth year, the prize clocks in at a higher value than the Turner Prize. Wonderland talks to curator Stefanie Braun, who put together this year’s stunning show.
Tell me a bit about being curator for the Prize.
I work with the four finalists on presenting their work. The jury have selected them for a certain body of work, and from that we make a selection for the gallery. John Stezaker was nominated for his Whitechapel retrospective, and we thought it would be fantastic to show work from ‘3rd Person Archive’, the series he created using encyclopaedias from the 1920s. For Pieter Hugo it was a mix. We wanted to have some large-scale portraits from ‘Permanent Error’ and then around them landscapes of their location, which is a dumping ground for computers in Ghana. Rinko Kawauchi has a particular style of displaying photographs. Each has a different size, and she decides on a specific way of presenting them so each image has a relationship to the others. Christopher Williams is only showing three pieces, but that minimalism is a part of his work.
Is it difficult to tell an artist that you can’t include a piece that they want you to?
Well, with any exhibition that you’re working on it’s a dialogue and a give-and-take process. I’m representing the institution and I know the spaces and what might work here, and then the artist has their own ideas. The difficulty is always that, although it’s a group show, it’s not a themed show; it’s like four mini shows under the umbrella of the prize. I think that’s what makes it interesting though, particularly for people who might not have much to do with photography. Here they’ll see four very different approaches to the medium.
You’re exhibiting John Stezaker, who doesn’t actually take photographs. Some would say that he isn’t eligible for a photography prize. Have you had any comments about that?
Funnily enough we haven’t. It’s been really well received, so far, and I think that shows how the perception of what photography is has really shifted, and that now conceptual photography is very much a mainstream practice. John started working in the early 1970s and is getting major recognition forty years later. He was definitely very ahead of his time. A lot of artists are working in his vein now, with found images, but he was one of the first doing it. Also, Christopher Williams doesn’t take most of his images. He’s a director in that he gives his ideas to a studio and tells them exactly how he wants photographs taken. Again, it’s this idea of the photographer and the author. For him it’s more about what the image ultimately says.
The prize is in its sixteenth year, and you’ve worked on it for several of them. Have you seen it change?
Well, I think the great thing about the prize is that we ask different people to be a part of the jury each year. So each year you have different people with different backgrounds and different ideas about what’s interesting and current. That’s reflected in the selection of the four finalists and makes it interesting. That’s what’s made it such a respected and important prize today. I mean, the prize money is more than the Turner. Photography is definitely becoming more important. We’ve re-opened and doubled the size of our exhibition spaces in central London in a time that I wouldn’t call easy. That says a lot.
The Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2012 exhibition is on display at The Photographers’ Gallery, London until 9 September. thephotographersgallery.org.uk
Words: Mark Izatt
Images (in order of appearance): Rinko Kawauchi, Untitled, from the series ‘Illuminance’ (2007); Rinko Kawauchi, Untitled, from the series ‘Illuminance’; John Stezaker, Muse (Film Portrait Collage) XVIII (2012); John Stezaker, Siren Song V (2011); Pieter Hugo, David Akore, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana (2010); Pieter Hugo, Yakubu Al Hasan, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana (2009)