Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2015

The winner for this year's Deutsche Borse Photography Prize was announced three days ago and the prize went to Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse for their publication, Ponte City (Steidl, 2014). I managed to view the exhibition a few weeks ago and went to their talk on the Wednesday that's just past. For this year's Deutsche Börse photography prize shortlist, it included the works of Viviane Sassen, Nikolai Bakharev and Zanele Muholi. When I first viewed the exhibition, Subotzky and Waterhouse's project had the most impact on me with their work but I was really moved by Zanele Muholi's series, Faces and Phases about the black LGBTI identity and politics in post-apartheid South Africa. Ponte City really stuck to me perhaps because of my architecture background.

"Ponte City depicts a 54-floor apartment block in Johannesburg which was built in 1976 for the white elite under apartheid rule. During the political transition in the 1980s and 90s, it became a refuge for black newcomers to the city and immigrants from all over Africa." (Guardian website)

This is a building that dominates Johannesburg skyline and is an icon of the city. Subotzky and Waterhouse spent six years from 2008-2014 documenting Ponte City. They started out by photographing people in the lift as that was the central core where people had to use to get in and out of the building. That was also their way of getting to know people living in the building. In their talk, Subotzky and Waterhouse mentioned that there were some suspicion from the people in their first encounter but they would then print the images after they photographed and delivered it to their apartment in person. This was their way into the lives of the people living there. ponte-plan

Ponte City floor plan (from Lindsay Bremner's blog)

One of the most interesting element of the project which I really enjoyed are the light boxes which was a recording of all the doors, windows and television set of every apartment within the building. The installation really works well and the viewer is like a voyeur looking into the lives of the people who lived there. This idea was inspired by a quote from Le Corbusier where he said that "the apertures of a building captures the spirit". Waterhouse had heard this quote somewhere before (but could not find it!) and it got them thinking about creating these light boxes which showed the apertures of the whole building, following the typology of Ponte city. c87c8d21aa

Windows, Doors, Televisions - three light boxes by Mikhael Subotzky & Patrick Waterhouse

SOUTH AFRICA. Johannesburg. 2008. From the Ponte City project, A book about the tallest residential skyscraper in Africa. In collaboration with Patrick Waterhouse.

Windows, Doors, Televisions (close up) by Mikhael Subotzky & Patrick Waterhouse


Looking up the Core, Ponte City, Johannesburg, 2008  

All images © Mikhael Subotzky / Patrick Waterhouse

Subotzky and Waterhouse's compilation of the found images, history and documentary photographs reveals the complex layers of Ponte City. This is a great project and one not to miss. The Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2015 exhibition, featuring work by all shortlisted artists is now on show at The Photographers' Gallery until the 7th of June. Do try to catch it!

For more reading: Lindsay Bremner wrote an essay 'Buildings are geological agents' on her blog, which was an accompanying piece for Ponte City's exhibition in Paris and is a great read!

Analogue is better...

It is one thing to write about a photographer you like and another to be able to meet the photographer you admire in person. One of the highlights in March was getting to meet Mary Ellen Mark in person and to ask her a question that many have asked and continued to question her for. The question of whether digital or analogue is better. Mark is one photographer who chose to stay with analogue even though she is working in the age of digital. Over the last couple of months, I have delved deeper into her works. From my research, Mark typically shoots with medium to large format for portraiture and 35mm for her street and documentary work. She shoots in both colour and black and white but her black and white work is definitely more prominent. Mark herself admits that ‘color is more difficult and less forgiving… I just see in black and white. It’s a real personal thing.’

I remembered that when I first started shooting back in 2000, it was all film. I lugged my Nikon SLR to Annapurna basecamp alongside 30 rolls of film. I fell in love with the analogue process. Being able to develop my own black and white images in the dark room was magical. I came to own my first digital camera in 2004 - an Olympus Camedia C-740 zoom with 3.2 megapixels and 10x optical zoom. Following that, I bought my very first Nikon D90 DSLR. It was never the same. Perhaps it is the nostalgia I feel towards the analogue process. This year, I managed to go back to my analogue film processes and recalled the days of being in the darkroom. I like how it slowed me down and put more consideration into each shot. Nothing like the modern day trigger on the DSLR hoping to find the moment in one of those shots.

There is also the association of truth to photography with analogue processes. When photography was first invented in 1839, it was to produce accurate drawings and representation. Now with the introduction of digital, Batchen wrote that ‘Digitization abandons even the rhetoric of truth that has been such an important part of photography’s cultural success.’(Batchen, 1999) In one of the interviews of Mary Ellen Mark, she mentioned this.

When I started out, it was considered very wrong to change an image. ...When I look at magazines and see a portrait, I assume it's been digitally altered. I'm not putting down Photoshop. When it's used like that, it's just not a photograph, but an illustration. (Mark to Row, 2010)

Documentary photography is a genre of photography, which is associated with authentic and accurate recording of the world and with this alteration of ‘truth’ associated with digitalisation, it might be a reason as to why Mark decides to stick to analogue photography.


The Damm family in their car by Mary Ellen Mark

What are your thoughts on analogue or digital photography?


A friend of mine showed me an amazing cinemagraphs website a couple of months ago. I was intrigued and really wondered how they did it. Just last week, I was shown how to make a cinemagraph and this is my early version of one. caiclick2

Recently I had the opportunity to speak to Getty Images Creative director, Anthony Holland Parkin and he spoke about the importance of the moving image in the photography industry. Nowadays, photographers are required to produce both still images as well as the moving image. There are mixed responses from photographers but quite a few are finding new ways to respond to this new trend. Jonas Bendiksen, Magnum photographer, produced a series of still films at last year's Brazil World Cup. They are really interesting and well worth a watch! You can view them here.