This year’s awards are for images on the theme of Space. Recently exhibited in the Barbican’s Curve Gallery and NGV Melbourne, Mosse’s Heat Maps document the life of migrants in refugee camps and migrant staging sites across Europe.
Richard Mosse, Hellinikon Olympic Arena, from the Heat Maps series, 2016-17
By using a military-grade telephoto and thermal camera – deemed a weapon under international law – Mosse creates thermal images that map the landscapes of human displacement. Able to detect body heat from 30km away, his camera reveals the intricate details of life within camp boundaries. His spectral panorama of the Greek camp Idomeni highlights squalid conditions, never-ending food queues and the basic-as-can-be temporary shelters and emergency architecture. Stripped of dignity, the refugees wait and hope. His images are haunting.
Concerned with one of the most traumatic and turbulent socio-political crises of recent times, Mosse was a likely winner. Yet this does not detract from his artistic brilliance. His photojournalism reportage work, captured using state-of-the-art thermal technology, exposes the traumas and endurance of human suffering. There is no wonder why he is one of the most talked-about photographic artists of the moment.
Michael Wolf, Tokyo Compression, 2008-11
The remainder of the 11 finalists’ images, all exploring the multi-faceted meanings of space, are just as poignant. Michael Wolf’s series, Tokyo Compression, makes the London Underground seem like a dream.
Wolf spent more than 60 weekday mornings during rush-hour (7.30am-9am) photographing commuting passengers at Shinjuku Station in Tokyo. With more than 3.5 million people passing through this space a day, it is one of the world’s most crowded stations. With closed eyes, glum, desperate expressions – one man even holds his hands in prayer – jammed up against the steamy windows, the commuting passengers endure intense and claustrophobic surroundings. Wolf’s work draws you into this Tokyo carriage to the point of panic. Benny Lam’s Subdivided Flats is no less harrowing.
Depicting the squalid and cramped living conditions in Hong Kong, Lam exposes the intense poverty lingering beneath the city’s shiny surface. His bird’s-eye view perspective permits an insight into the cramped spaces inhabited by some of the city’s poorest people. Single people, couples and even entire families cram themselves into spaces no bigger than 57 pieces of A4 sized paper – Lam mentions that more than 200,0000 people are currently living in subdivided flats like this, due to soaring rent prices. Lam intends this project, produced in collaboration with the Hong Kong Society for Community Organisation, to shed light on the critical housing issue currently plaguing Hong Kong.
Benny Lam, Trapped, from the series Subdivided Flats, 2012
In less than a decade, the Prix Pictet has established itself as one of the world’s leading photography competitions. The Pictet – now in its seventh cycle of awards (roughly one competition every 18 months) – is unusual in that it not only keeps its focus firmly on themes and topics with the environment, its problems and sustainability, close at heart, it is also, relatively speaking, the richest of the lot. No less than 100,000 Swiss Francs goes to the winner. That’s nearly £80,000. Hence, many of the true greats in contemporary photography tend to be nominated – along with thousands of less well-known names.
The shortlisted entries are beautiful, political and trigger discussion and debate. The exhibition is manageable but thought provoking, and presents the global issues of sustainability and environment in a provocative and engaging way.
The 12 finalists’ images will go on show at the V&A’s Porter Gallery from 6 May until the end of the month. Make sure to catch it, before it moves off on tour around the world.
|What||Prix Pictet photography awards, V&A|
|Where||V&A, South Kensington, Cromwell Road, London, SW7 2RL | MAP|
|Nearest tube||South Kensington (underground)|
06 May 17 – 28 May 17, Times vary, check online