Permanent Error? Stezaker win splits photography down the middle

Muse (Film Portrait Collage) XVIII, 2012. Image © John Stezaker, courtesy of the artist and The Approach, London

So the photo-artist John Stezaker has won this year’s Deutsche Borse Photography Prize. The result was announced last night at the recently re-opened Photographer’s Gallery in London. There’s been a predictably mixed reaction to the decision in photography circles, with photographers and critics alike roughly evenly split down the middle – kind of like Stezakers montages in a way. You kind of either love them or hate them.

Stezaker has made a career out of splicing found photos together, but is that photography? It’s a question that puts the Photographer’s Gallery firmly back on familiarly devil’s advocate territory – perennially asking this question, which is it’s raison d’etre after all. Madeleine Pearl explains why this doesn’t really matter in her ‘short post not about whether found images are photography‘ over on DuckRabbit’s blog, which is worth a read.

Yakubu Al Hasan, Agbogbloshie Market, Accra, Ghana 2009 © Pieter Hugo

But for me, while we’re on the subject of being predictable, my money was on one of the other four shortlisted photographers, Pieter Hugo. His series, Permanent Error, which portrays the people who eke out a living scavenging metal from the world’s electronic waste in a massive dump in Ghana, makes for haunting, eerie viewing.

Is it ‘photography’ any more than Stezaker’s work? Maybe not. But it’s photography about life, rather than photography about photography, which makes it far more compelling, relevant and necessary in my book.

The Deutsche Borse Photography Prize is on show at the Photographer’s Gallery until this Sunday, 9th September. Catch it while you can – but check out Pieter Hugo’s Permanent Error book in the bookshop if you do. It’s this that he was nominated for, and you need to see it to really understand why – the small selection of prints on display really doesn’t do the series justice.


About russellphoto

Photographer and multimedia producer/editor working in international development. Also on Twitter @russellphoto
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