|Launched in 2008, the Prix Pictet is a prize that highlights artistic achievements in photography and sustainability.We aim to let the works speak unimpeded by curatorial ornament or intervention. At the heart of the Prix Pictet lies the idea that photography of the highest quality can communicate messages of critical importance to the future of the planet, messages to which in all other forms we have become immune. Each edition of the prize takes a different sustainability theme, Water (2008), Earth (2009) and Growth (2010).|
Launched in 2008, the Prix Pictet is a prize that highlights artistic achievements in photography and sustainability.
We aim to let the works speak unimpeded by curatorial ornament or intervention. At the heart of the Prix Pictet lies the idea that photography of the highest quality can communicate messages of critical importance to the future of the planet, messages to which in all other forms we have become immune. Each edition of the prize takes a different sustainability theme, Water (2008), Earth (2009) and Growth (2010). Artists shortlisted for the Prix Pictet are selected on the basis of artistic excellence, impact, and alignment with the theme. Within that each of the artists will, of course, have their own highly developed voice and distinctive approach. Our job is to ensure that that voice is heard as clearly as possible, and we make no distinction between fine art and photojournalism. So for the 2009 award, the shortlisted work for which is currently touring internationally, we have included artists as diverse as Andreas Gursky, Darren Almond, Ed Burtynsky, Yao Lu, and Ed Kashi.
The shortlisted images range from the painterly to the documentary, and all points in between, in most cases within a single submission. A number of the shortlisted photographers have made work that unsettles the viewer by presenting something that is not what it first appears. The German artist, Andreas Gursky, for example, makes large-scale, color photographs that are distinctive for their critical look at the effect of capitalism and globalization. His nominated work Untitled XIII (2002) confronts the viewer with an apparently infinite landscape of garbage. From a distance this work appears abstract and colorful, but closer inspection reveals tiny figures desperately searching a dump in Chimalhuacán, Mexico City.
Like Gurksy, Naoya Hatakeyama’s dramatic submission Blast, River and Tunnel also plays with viewers’ perceptions to jolt us into a reflection on the relationship between people and their environment; we are alternately in the very midst of the eruption of a blast mine and standing waist deep admiring the angular beauty of dirty water channels beneath the cities of Paris and Tokyo.
In his Mountain and Water (2006-07) the Chinese artist, Yao Lu, presents images of lush mountainous vistas swamped in mist and surrounded by sea that are not what they seem. The peaks rising from the water that dwarf the tiny speck-sized boats are, in fact, gargantuan piles of rubbish and construction waste, by-products of China’s building development, shrouded in miles of green netting. Like Gursky and Hatakeyama, Lu uses photography to both distort the truth and represent reality while taking the viewer back in time to when the landscape was a fertile and untouched area.
The London-based artist, Darren Almond, was nominated for his series, Fullmoons (2008-09). Almond uses the moon as his only source of light, and an extensive exposure time of 15 minutes or more, to turn night into day. He creates meditative landscapes that have a unique and mysterious quality.
Edward Burtynsky’s remarkable depictions of global industrial landscapes are in the collections of over 50 major museums. For the Prix Pictet he is nominated for his Quarries series a group of breathtaking angular images that present active and abandoned quarries across America, Europe, and India as vast sculptural forms of spectacular, dizzying beauty.
Christopher Steel-Perkins uses an iconic symbol of Japan that has inspired many Japanese artists, most notably Utagawa Hiroshige, for his iconic series of woodblocks, 36 Views of Mount Fuji. Mount Fuji is a national park, but the surrounding area is now dominated by golf courses, resorts and scrap yards, and has been used as a military testing ground. The work can be seen as a commentary on modern Japan and the erosion of natural beauty in the name of progress.
Both Edgar Martins and Nadav Kandar (who won the award) chronicle a disappearing world. In his series The Diminishing Present (2005 & 2008), the Portuguese photographer, Edgar Martins, captures the progress of advancing forest fires in Portugal. His beautiful, painterly images show the vivid greens of vegetation about to be consumed by flames and the charred land left in their wake. The fires of 2005 and 2008 followed an extended period of drought and extreme heat that many believed to be a result of global climate change. Nadav Kandar’s Yangtze documents the rapidly changing landscape and communities of China’s Yangtze River, from its mouth to source. More people live along the river’s banks than in America. China’s current program of development is destroying the country’s heritage and displacing many of its people. These are images of a community in transition, images of a diminishing world that can never be made again.
Three of the photographers take the exploitation of Africa and South America as their theme. The Congolese photographer, Sammy Baloji, superimposes colonial black-and-white archive photos, from mines of Katanga in Congo that were run by Belgian companies, with his own color images of the mines today. His nominated work Memory (2006) speaks of the lucrative industrial past of the area that benefited the Belgian colonization, while its people were forced into slavery. Ed Kashi’s Curse of the Black Gold is a graphic look at the profound cost of oil exploitation in West Africa. His work traces the 50-year impact of Nigeria’s relationship to oil and the resulting environmental degradation and community conflicts that have plagued the region. Capitolio (2008) by the Canadian photographer, Christopher Anderson, explores the cycle of consumption, destruction, violence, and political turmoil that ebbs and flows with the price of oil in Venezuela, where the entire economy is built around the ever-expanding exploitation of the earth’s resources.
Finally Abbas Kowsari’s Shade of Earth is a starkly beautiful record the annual Noruz (New Year) pilgrimage of hundreds of thousands of Iranians to the fronts of the eight-year-long Iran-Iraq war. The pilgrims, often family members of the half a million soldiers who died, travel from all parts of Iran to where the fighting was the heaviest, a journey known as Caravan of Light (Rahian-e Noor).