I would like to see Lorna Simpson carry off this year’s Deutsche Börse Photography Prize for some rather perverse (in some people’s eye) reasons. Not least is her gender, all too few women are put forward for prizes in the general area of the lens based image that I tend to feel sometimes that I would choose the woman before I even looked at her images if I were not careful. However in this case it is the body of work that I am rooting for. Simpson has been nominated for her career-long survey at the Jeu de Paume, Paris, (now at the Baltic in Gateshead). This show includes her large format photo-texts of the mid 1980s, her work in screen prints on felt panels since the 1990s, a group of drawings , her “Photo Booths”, ensembles of found photos and drawings and her video installations. It seems to me that the nomination of a practitioner for work that includes media other than strictly lens based images in a prize that he sponsors describe as, “The Deutsche Börse Photography Prize aims to reward a contemporary photographer of any nationality, who has made the most significant contribution (exhibition or publication) to the medium of photography in Europe in the previous year” is beginning to recognise the way that traditional distinctions between the media have little place in today’s world.
Yes the judges will have to try to make a decision which will be taken as a value judgement on the image quality (whatever that might be) of the work nominated but of course that is not really what the prize sets out to reward. If it were that I don’t think a real choice could be made between the nominees, they are all equally worthy but the difference is in the “contribution (exhibition or publication) to the medium of photography” made by the nominee in the designated year and for me there is little contest here. Simpson’s exhibition documents not only her own visual and creative journey but also that of the artistic practice that tends towards using lens based media and the trajectory taken by so many artists who would have simply been classified as photographers and perhaps ignored by many traditionalists in the art world.
To have made a serious contribution to image making, conceptual art, as well as gender, identity and racial discourse over the last thirty years of so is well worth the prize in my view, the fact that the images themselves are superb is, paradoxically, almost irrelevant, as so are those of the other nominees!
This is the third of our four opinion pieces on the Deutsche Börse finalists. Read Sharon Boothroyds’ piece on why Jochen Lampert should get the prize here and Jesse Alexander’s piece on why he wants Richard Mosse to win click here