The Deutsche Börse Photography Prize, 2017 ★★★★

Notions of time and death are celebrated this year through traditional and experimental photography

In its 20th year, the Deutsche Börse Photography prize shortlisted four great artists, but Sophie Calle – France’s most famous conceptual artist – and Dana Lixenberg definitely steal the show.

Calle’s eccentric style never disappoints. Over the last 30 years, the artist has invited strangers to sleep in her bed, hired a detective to spy on her and asked blind people what was the last image they saw.

She was nominated for a set of postcards, MY ALL, a portfolio of her life and projects, documenting all her 54 artworks so far. Unexpectedly, she has created a reflective exhibition responding emotionally to the recent deaths of her mother, cat and father, entitled My Mother, My Father, My Cat. This effect is more than powerful, but depends considerably on the text. The arrangement of the room is dominated by the theme of death, but Calle directly sets the rule of humour and emotions in this textual installation, especially with extracts of her mother’s diary, and a photograph of her dead cat – called Souris (mouse in French ironically) – in a small coffin. Her dad is a ram and her mom is represented by a stuffed giraffe, which Calle bought straight after her death and named her after her, Monique.

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As with Art itself, you either get her or you don’t. We can’t guess if she was crying, laughing or indifferent while setting the display up. The artist’s eccentricity and weirdness takes over the ambiance and makes us wonder how to react to death.

But when we start thinking Calle has no feelings at all, we bump into a heart-breaking text, where she confides in her viewers – while delicately mastering her usual voyeurism:

On December 27, 1986, my mother wrote in her diary: ‘My mother died today.’

On March 15, 2006, in turn, I wrote in mine: ‘My mother died today.’

No one will say this about me.

The end.

Dana Lixenberg, Deutsch photographer, gives a fascinating series of portraits that she named Imperial Courts, empowered by its quarter of a century of history. Lixenberg went to Los Angeles suburbs in the 1990s after the ‘Rodney King riots’, and came back several times after to continue documenting and to look at the evolution of the suburb’s population as well as the social politics with the ghetto life in the aftermath of the events. In her absence, many were killed, jailed or had children of their own. This series of portraits tells the story and the passage of time in a poor community. It’s almost a documentary in pictures thanks to this strong narrative. We would think all photographs were taken at the same time, but reality hits us when seeing a portrait Tony, a child in 1993, next to a picture of a memorial to him 17 years on.

The black and white portraits are all very formal. Even though it lacks a certain spontaneity Lixenberg plays with lighting effects. Emotions are forceful and are emphasized by the pictures’ timelessness; it’s impossible not to feel anything with Lixenberg’s display.

It has been since 2010 a woman hasn’t won the prize. This year, with Calle and Lixenberg’s emotional reflection on the world, Girl Power is undeniably in place.



Update: Dana Lixenberg has won the Deutsche Börse photography prize on the 18th May 2017. Read more


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