Between 2009 and 2010, the photography prize, Prix Pictet – launched in 2008 – gathered works from several photographers under the theme of Earth. These works were shown in such international venues as Paris’ Passage de Retz, Switzerland’s Musee de l’Elysee and New Delhi’s Religare Arts. Britain-based photographer Nadav Kander was awarded the top prize of Prix Pictet 2009-2010 by honorary president of the Prix Pictet Kofi Annan. This year’s theme is Growth, and the shortlist of 12 artists includes Christian Als (Denmark), Stephane Couturier (France), the winner Mitch Epstein (U.S.) and Nyaba Leon Ouedracgo (Burkina Faso).
“Growth” is nowadays up at Beirut’s Ayyam Gallery, with 24 photographs by the short-listed artists on display. The show exhibits a wide range of photographs on subjects ranging from architecture to animals, and shot in locations like Kenya, Malawi, Hong Kong and the United States.
Christian Als’s black-and-white photograph “The Shadow City” – shot in Kenya – depicts a mother and her child walking by a shantytown. It conveys a heaviness from the fragile-looking houses and church to the clouds and fumes rising from the ground. The atmosphere captured by Als’ lensfeels dense and oppressive.
That same oppressive feeling is present in German photographer Michael Wolf’s work “Architecture of Density.” Here, the artist has captured eight amazingly high apartment towers in Hong Kong. Some onlookers may feel dizzy just by looking at the photo with the apartments piled on top of each other, like a real-life Lego structure. Also notable is the symmetry between the apartments, and continuity in the towers.
The winner of this year’s Prix Pictet, Mitch Epstein, has a photograph entitled “Century Wind Project,” which can be considered the embodiment of the theme of Growth. On the foreground of the image taken in Iowa is typical American scenery – residential houses, a school bus and greenery. But in the background, green and yellow fields are invaded by energy producing wind turbines, which now conquer much of the countryside. We may ponder though whether Wolf’s Growth is evident in the fields that have been invaded by constructions, or whether it is the village that is being eaten up by the wind structures.
Nyaba Leon Ouedracgo’s “Hell of Copper” deals with the growth of danger and poverty. Shot in Ghana, the photograph focuses on the trade of small copper pieces. A man is standing, looking at a computer that is on fire. He is waiting for the fire to burn off the plastic parts, exposing the red treasure – copper – which he will later sell to merchants. There is no specific backdrop to Ouedracgo’s photograph, so the viewer’s eye is on the center of the work.
Some onlookers might categorize this picture as representing the growth of danger. Indeed, the man isn’t wearing any protection such as gloves or a mask to protect him from the intoxicating fumes. The hidden message Ouedracgo may have wanted to show here is that some populations will, and must, do anything – even put their health at risk – in order to survive.
Through this exhibition, onlookers can witness both the positive and negative aspects of our world’s growth. Some cities prosper and improve their highways, buildings and energy structures, while others are victims of these developments. Growth is often inevitably at others’ expense.
Prix Pictet “Growth” is up at Ayyam Gallery until March 30. For more information please call 01-374-450.