The four finalists for the prize were on display at the Photographers Gallery.
Nikolai Bakharev’s pictures of Russian bathers are described as ambiguous in the gallery guide but I found them to be furtive and, because possibly of this furtive nature of the shots, also quite claustrophobic even though they are all outdoors. They are invariably shot against foliage (presumably to hide the act of photographing because of the restrictions in place at the time) and fairly close cropped to the square frame so there is not much information on the wider setting. The pictures were all taken in the 1980s and, to be honest, I was wondering why this was considered to be a viable finalist. Personally, while I could see in the photos a reflection of the restricted circumstances in which they were taken and, to a degree, therefore the historical relevance of them, I wasn’t sure that they were a strong enough exhibit.
Next up was Zanele Muholi’s Faces and Phases 2006-2014. This is portrait series centred on the LGBT communinity in South Afrika and its experiences of homophobia. I found this to be a moving exhibit and I liked the progression from the bald statements written on a gigantic cloth (although I noted that some of my fellow students thought this to be a bit gimmicky) to a wall of unframed A2 black and white portraits, to a couple of films (which I didn’t have time to listen to fully, although I subsequently have see here for her film Difficult Love http://www.imdb.com/video/wab/vi3128728089/ ) and then to a slide show of more happier moments. In the latter part there was to me a wonderful portrait of a couple (worth the visit in itself)
Onwards and upwards to the next floor which first housed Mikhael Subotzky’s and Patrick Waterhouse’s Ponte City. I had previously seen this exhibited in Paris (see here:- https://richardbrown56taop.wordpress.com/2014/06/07/paris-trip-10-13-april-2014/) on a much larger scale although I understand it has been exhibited in several different ways. From my recollection the Paris exhibition did not have the tower collages of the interior shots of the building and I thought these were well done in giving a strong visual echo of the building itself. There is no denying the scope of the work which is both monumental (in terms of the towers and the large shots) but also personal in terms of some of the individual items mounted on the wall.
The final exhibit was Viviane Sassen’s Umbra. Umbra is latin for shadow and the exhibit is intended as a metaphor for the human psyche, The statement on the wall mentions that the work “makes reference to Jungian psychoanalysis as well as the connection between the shadow and the “alter ego”” I have to be honest and say that this was lost on me – not that I didn’t find some of her images interesting – but the concept was way beyond me.
We had a discussion afterwards as to which exhibit we thought should win the prize and my vote was for Muholi’s work which I felt had more of an impact (I though the defiant black and white portraits were excellent) although the Ponte City ran it a close second based on its scope and quality.
As it happened, it was the Ponte City exhibit that won the prize.