I recently attended an informal study visit with a friend to view Deutsche Borse Photography Foundation Prize 2019 exhibition at the Photographers Gallery.
The four nominees were: Mark Ruwedel, Susan Meiselas, Arwed Messmer, Laia Abril.
Mark Ruwedel – Artist and Society
Mark Ruwedel had submitted a series of photographs of abandoned desert homes, nuclear testing sites and railways. His aim was to illustrate the way in which landscapes and buildings can be affected by the political and social culture in an area. His series of desert homes was photographed in the evening because he felt there was a greater sharpness to the images at the time of day. The images were well presented, but I felt I needed to research his work further to gain a better understanding of the underlying purpose of these images.
Susan Meiselas – Mediations
Susan Meiselas is a documentary photographer who, in order to get as true a story as possible, immerses herself into the community which she is working with. She gains their trust and confidence so is able to take photographs showing the real events. I was very moved by some of her images, particularly the one shown below. Meiselas had captured the plight of the women looking down at the bones, probably now knowing whether they were belonging to a relative, or a member of her community. The desperation of a mother and wife is portrayed in this image.
Arwed Messmer – RAF no evidence
Arwed Messmer had drawn together a series of images and documents taken from various sources, such as state archives. The result was a collection of images used as police evidence against the RAF (Red Army Faction). His aim was to show that by bringing these images together, a greater understanding of the events of history may emerge. I have limited knowledge of the history of the RAF and their activities, but these images intrigued me, and I wished I had done more research before going to see the exhibition.
Laia Abril – On Abortion
To me this was the most moving collection of work in the exhibition. Abril comes from a predominately catholic culture where abortion is absolutely unacceptable, and illegal. She set out to highlight the issues and also the inherent dangers of restricting women’s rights. For centuries women have sought to terminate pregnancies for many different reasons, and what Abril was showing is that nothing has changed for many women in the world. The reasons for wanting an abortion are varied: serious ill health endangering the mother’s life, poverty, pregnancy as a result of rape. Abril interviewed many women in the course of her research, but sadly she was unable to speak to some as they had already passed away as a result of an illegal abortion.
Abril’s ethos is that women should have the right to make decisions about their own bodies, and by prohibiting this, women are being driven to “back street” illegal abortionists. I was shocked at the number of women throughout the word who were unable make decisions about their bodies, and were either putting themselves at risk because of it, or having to make decisions about their lives after the baby was born. One image of a hatch in a wall was disturbing when I read about the purpose of this hatch. It turned out to be in the wall of an orphanage, and anyone giving birth and unable to care for their baby, could put the it through the hatch (anonymously) and the nuns who ran the orphanage would take of it. A terrible decision for a mother to have to make, and she would also have had no medical care herself, putting her at risk of afterbirth complications.
I found this whole exhibition very emotional, and I hoped Laia Abril would win the Deutsch Borse Photographic Foundation Prize. In fact it went to Susan Meiselas.