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PHOTOGRAPHY - Citibank Photography Prize 2003 Review by Grace Giardina


The Citibank prize at the Photographers' Gallery

A tournament of sorts, with only one winner. A battle fought without violence but with power. Where talents are strength, and determination the will. A battle of the mind, heart, and soul. Of course, all four artists are exceptionally talented, and none are better than the rest. I think this competition is a tough one to judge. For the Citibank Photography Prize 2003, the jury shortlisted four photographers: Jitka Hanzlova, Bertien van Manen, Simon Norfolk and Juergen Teller. Their work signifies a powerful social engagement and a return to a more documentary approach that is now in ascendance in contemporary photography.

Jitka Hanzlova, born in the Czech Republic, exhibits her Brixton series in the show. This, her most recent series of portraits, are all of women (all strangers she approached on the street) whose ages range from thirteen to fifty. Most are black women who live in Brixton themselves. This work is beautiful. It represents a part of Brixton which is hidden from the public view. Most knowledge of the South London area may be related to drugs, violence, and demonstrations. This collection shows the flowers of Brixton, London's "trees of brooklyn". She also has a book of work called Female, which is available for viewing. Hanzlova is a natural portrait photographer with a soft ability to relax and relate to her subjects. Each print, including living window IV 2002, is not without a delicate touch of grace.

Simon Norfolk was born in Lagos and now lives in London. From 1990 to 1994 he was the staff photographer for Living Marxism, for whom he covered issues such as the British National Party, Northern Ireland, the Poll Tax, Eastern Europe at the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Gulf War. He abandoned photo-journalism in 1994 for a landscape-based practice around sites of conflict, war and genocide, a project that is ongoing. Now he shows us his Afghanistan images. Not only is Norfolk out there, but he's out there with a very good, but very technical and less convenient, old style 5x4 camera. It's slow shutter speed and larger format allow for epic quality, and the sense that we are looking beyond the present moment and through the depths of time. We owe Norfolk a lot for bringing us the images we need inorder to begin to understand our situation. The beauty of the images belies the ongoing human tragedy they represent.

The Dutch photographer Bertien van Manen, show's in this exhibition her powerful series of images made in China from 1997- 2000, entitled East Wind West Wind. As a Western photographer, her work represents a view from the outside looking in, yet unlike photo-journalism, her images reveal a rare intimacy, opening a door onto a domestic reality usually hidden from the eyes of outsiders. In these images we see young women out clubbing, youth culture, family meals, and images of soldiers from the inside of a taxi. Avoiding stereotypical views of mass gatherings or staged events, her story offers glimpses into the everyday lives and experiences of the people she has encountered. Her approach is not to construct the Chinese as 'other' by exoticising her subjects. Instead, she portrays them as she would portray her Dutch friends and family. Also available for viewing is her book, A Hundred Summers A Hundred Winters, which has dealt with the collapse of the communist state.

Juergen Teller, is known as one of the most influential fashion photographers of the last fifteen years, and the winner of this year's Citibank Photography Prize. He did his first shoots for magazines like The Face and ID in 1986 knowing almost nothing about the world of fashion. The editors were looking for a streetwise approach to counter the gloss of their upmarket rivals. Teller has always insisted on creative freedom in his commercial work. His new collection of non-commercial work made over the last few years, Marchenstuberl, makes no distinction between images of his private life, and images of the famous. In terms of style, not much separates images of his wife and daughter visiting a farm, from his images of Kate Moss naked and heavily pregnant in the south of France. His shot of Bjork and her son, taken ten years ago, is the most incredible portrayal of 'the mother and child' that I have ever seen. His picture entitled My Mother, Father and Me, Bubenreuth, Germany, 1998, takes a second to realise. It's quiet, touching and powerful, and deserves a moment of silent admiration.

All four artists deserve a place in the diverse and wonderful history of photography. It is work like this which will inform and change public knowledge and opinion, therefore contributing to our overall perception of ourselves and our fellow human beings all over the world.




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