Paul Hansen’s controversial winning photograph of the overall prize at World Press Photo /13, Gaza Burial, really does look odd. In post-processing, Hansen tone-adjusted the RAW file so that it looks like it could be a composite image (which contravenes the rules of entry). The strangeness is evident when looking at web resolution and the effect was only heightened for me when seeing it in large print. Controversy aside, it was far from my favourite photo there anyway (the image below, my pick of the day, is from the utterly brilliant and heartbreaking series Daily Life by Fausto Podavini) but I understand why it ticks all the competition boxes.
I also loved Little Survivor by Namanja Pancic, and Early Morning by Soren Bidstrup, the lazy morning domesticity of the latter seeming almost out of place among the distress, violence and bloodshed that dominated all the non-sport/wildlife work. Perhaps it’s an inevitable symptom of this kind of shock photojournalism – certainly when gathered, rated and compared – that a pornography of image prevails. Who can capture even more inhumanity, in even greater detail, in a more arresting framing? It’s an old argument, but this annual exhibition always brings it home to me.
There an online gallery of all the winners here.
Also on show at Sint-Pietersabdji was my favourite exhibition of recent years, Tiksi by Evgenia Arbugaeva. Beautifully curated here in low ambient light and bright spots, this is a warm, celebratory exploration of the town the photographer’s grew up with, shot with the intention of recreating the sense of place she had growing up there as a child. Technical skill is beyond reproach. But it’s the tone that really matters here. Considering the sharp decline in the population and economy of Tiksi, this could have been some gritty window on a dying Siberian town in the hands of someone without such acute personal connections to the place. As it is, it’s an uplifting, funny and beguiling work. Strongly recommended.
Evy Raes’ Kom Binnen, which is on show next to Tiksi, was always going to suffer a little by comparison. The work is a series of stills of Flemish interiors collected over 5 years. Bright colours, garish wallpapers and odd geometries define these rooms, ornaments and knick-knacks abound and a general sense of kitsch pervades the organised clutter. I particularly liked the (cleverly framed) cracked bathroom tiling and the ornate tea and coffee pots sitting regally on the range.
I had another look at Von Trier’s Melancholia when I get back. After feeling pretty lukewarm about post-Dogme work like Dogville and Antichrist, I see this film as a return to form. The opening sequence of slow-motion lyrical images sets a portentous tone and the first movement, Justine, is particularly impressive, not least due to a career-best performance from Kirsten Dunst. The second half, Claire, isn’t quite as strong, and maybe the grand metaphors can start to grate at times. I still say kudos to Von Trier, as Melancholia is beautifully made and shot through with enough fear, anxiety and tension to make an impact (ahem, slight pun-spoiler there..).
With Nymphomaniac being on the way too, if we thought the Von Trier rollercoaster had hit a high point at the time of his controversial (and apparently misrepresented) Cannes remarks, I feel full sure he’s about to polarise his audience more than ever. Be prepared for media savagery.
A wonderful time spent in Ghent. Next time, my friends.