Deutsche Borse Prize 2013 Promotes Debate, Frustration And Exasperation

As in past years, the jury has selected artists for what they represent rather than what they do. But you gotta love them for it!

Chris Killip, Father and son watching a parade, Newcastle West End, Tyneside, 1975

© Chris Killip, Courtesy of the artist and Eric Franck Fine Art, London


Every year the Deutsche Borse Prize Jury does an excellent job of selecting artists for its prize that causes debate, frustration and, in some cases, exasperation. So the panel have done again this year, and hats off to such consistency. In taking a sample of the current climate within photographic arts practice, selectors must choose the new as well as the old, and in so doing destabilise some of the foundational assumptions one may hold onto, yet this year, in particular, they have done so with gusto. As a result, the prize selection this year comprises a photographer, an artist pairing, a self-publishing phenomenon and a digital explorer.

Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, Plate 26, George Bush serves a Thanksgiving Turkey to US troops stationed in Baghdad in 2003, 2011  (photo Tim Sloan)

Work on paper, 24cm x 29cm, 2011

Courtesy of the artist, and The Photographers’ Gallery, London

Taken as a whole, the first question to ask about this selection is how large a body of work  a practitioner needs to have before being nominated for such a distinguished prize. Two of the selectees, Broomberg and Chanarin and Chris Killip, are heavyweights in their respective fields; players to use a colloquial term. Cristina de Middel, with only one major project to speak of effectively, and Mishka Henner, relatively new to the scene, are both accomplished artists but relative novices in comparison.

Mishka Hennner, Carretera de Olot, Crespia, CT, Spain, 2011

20×24”,© Mishka Henner

Courtesy of the artist and The Photographers’ Gallery, London


Self-publishing has broken down many of the traditional barriers of entry for young photographers. With gallery representation or the investment of a publisher no longer a prerequisite for recognition, fresh dynamic work can get circulated more freely and thus put the staid gatekeepers of the old order on the back foot. This is a good thing. Both the De Middel and Henner are in this show as a result of this sea change, yet  the Deutsche Borse Prize should really be one the barriers it should take time, a career even, to overcome.

Cristina de Middel’s self-publishing phenomenon, ‘Afronauts, displayed on the wall.


Mishka Henner has been nominated for his series ‘No Man’s Land’ in which he uses images grabbed/taken from Google Street View. Using information gleaned from online forums in which men discuss likely locations of sex-workers, mainly in Italy and Spain, Henner visits them remotely via the Google platform and captures said workers in situ.  The resulting scenes are striking in their lightness, the balmy heat of the web saturated reds and greens combining with the exotic yet banal locales to create an uncomfortable juxtaposition.

Mishka Hennner, Contrada Vallecupa, Colonnella, Abruzzi, Italy, 2011

© Mishka Henner

Courtesy of the artist and The Photographers’ Gallery, London


According to the press release ‘Henner’s work poses complex questions about the blurring of boundaries between voyeurism, online information gathering and privacy rights’. If by ‘complex questions’ it is meant that Henner has been exploitative by gathering information online that does violate privacy rights, I would agree, but there is no blurring of boundaries, just overstepping. Having said that, Henner’s work is no more ethically dubious than the classic work of Magnum photographers who constantly chart the agony and distress of others. These are sad, tragic scenes whose purpose on the walls of a gallery is unclear. If there is question being asked it is what value this project has apart from the fact it was made using a new technology. That may well have been Henner’s intent.

No Man’s Land (Road Movie), 2011

Single-Channel video, 6:48 minutes


Cristina De Middel has made a wonderful project in ‘Afronauts’. Full of humour and quite brilliant re-imaginings, De Middel ostensibly engages with a short-lived space programme initiated by the newly elected Zambian government in 1964. The programme, whose aim was to send the first African astronauts to Mars, was soon cancelled, becoming no more than an amusing anecdote in the country’s history.

Cristina de Middel, Hamba, from the series The Afronauts, 2012

30 x 30 cm

© Cristina de Middel

Courtesy of the artist and The Photographers’ Gallery, London

De Middel approaches this story by mixing archive material with landscapes and editorial-like recreations and staged tableaux. Taken together, these images constitute the exploration of a dream, an idea on the far edges of reality and the fringes of plausibility. There is compassion here, and the project never feels patronising or disingenuous.

Cristina de Middel, from the series The Afronauts, 2012

30 x 30 cm

© Cristina de Middel

Courtesy of the artist and The Photographers’ Gallery, London


‘Afronauts’ was a self-publishing sensation last year, quickly selling out its short print run and topping many ‘best of’ photo book lists. It is now so sought after that it can get up to 1000 pounds on Ebay. It’s an inventive, original and noteworthy piece of work but is it, in itself, enough to put De Middel in contention for the one of the most sought after European photography prizes? There have been equally incendiary debuts to have not garnered such attention, a fact that does suggest that De Middel’s inclusion is, in a similar way to Henner, due to what she represents than what she has done, excellent work though it is.

Cristina de Middel, Jambo, from the series The Afronauts, 2012

30 x 30 cm

© Cristina de Middel

Courtesy of the artist and The Photographers’ Gallery, London

Broomberg and Chanarin are a well recognised artist partnership whose previous work has mingled appropriated and manipulated archive imagery to political ends. In a postmodern adaptation of a thoroughly modernist piece of work, the two artists have ‘physically inhabited’ a seminal Bertolt Brecht publication, ‘War Primer’ , with the new work ‘War Primer 2’. Brecht had juxtaposed WWII imagery with pasted press clippings, accompanied by short poems that sought  to demystify the propaganda machine of conflict. In ‘War Primer 2’, Broomberg and Chanarin repeat the the trick by adding low-resolution web grabs and mobile phone imagery documenting the ‘War on Terror’,  onto those of Brechts’ . In so doing Broomberg and Chanarin expose the ways in which imagery is disseminated in the service of the ideology of (often) western aggressors, as well as the disturbing echoes between the highly mediated press imagery of the past and the melange of contemporary visuals, be they mobile phone pics or youtube stills.

Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin,Plate 23, Aircraft, at right, is seen as it is about to fly into the World Trade Center in New York on Tuesday.The aircraft was the second to fly into the tower Tuesday morning, 2011

Work on paper, 24cm x 29cm

Courtesy of the artist and The Photographers’ Gallery, London

Chris Killip is the photographer’s photographer here. Over more than 30 years, he has been documenting the plight of disenfranchised working classes across Great Britain. Images of great joy are countenanced by scenes of despair, apathy, listlessness and anger. Indeed it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Killip has, in his magnificent body of work only partly represented here, gone as far as one artist can to capture the human condition. His is a deeply empathetic eye, informed by profound compassion. It’s hard to not just stand there and stare at work so accomplished. In relation to the other nominees, his Killip feels like a dinosaur, practicing an increasingly irrelevant art, but there surely must be a reward for a career do distinguished in its accomplishments and so noble in both its intentions and execution.

Chris Killip, Boat repair, Skinningrove, North Yorkshire, 1983

© Chris Killip Courtesy of the artist and The Photographers’ Gallery, London


Henner and De Middel are definitely artists for the future, firmly pushing at the preconceptions of the old order (some of which I may be guilty of myself) but there is much they need to achieve before they can rank themselves alongside Killip or Broomberg and Chanarin, and I would contend that the jury should have not done so either. Killip to win every day of the week.

Chris Killip, Queens Silver Jubilee Celebrations, North Shields, Tyneside, 1981

© Chris Killip, Courtesy of the artist and Eric Franck Fine Art, London


Visit Deustche Borse Photgraphy Prize 2013 @ The Photographers Gallery 19 April-30 June

Words by Kerim Aytac

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