The Leica Oskar Barnack Award is one of the most prestigious in the business and, with a top prize of €25,000 plus a Leica M-System (camera and lens), it’s a lucrative one too. This year, 12 photographers have been picked out for the shortlist – Samuel Gratacap (France), Daniel Chatard (Germany), Max Pinckers (Belgium), Ernesto Benavides (Peru), Vanja Bucan (Slovenia), Turi Calafato (Italy), Stephen Dock (France), Mary Gelman (Russia), Stéphane Lavoué (France), Elsa Stubbé (Belgium), Christian Werner (Germany), and Kechun Zhang (China). Benavides has been nominated for Dredges, a series on illegal gold mining in his native Peru; Bucan’s Sequences of Truth and Deception looks at the ambivalent relationship between humans and nature. Calafato’s Amuninni ‘u mari [Let’s go to the sea] shows locals on the beach in Sicily; Chatard’s Niemandsland [No man’s land] documents the tense relationship between the mining industry and environmental activists in the Rhenish region. Dock’s Architecture of Violence was shot in Ireland and records the reverberations of war; Gelman’s Svetlana looks at a community of mentally disabled people in Russia. …
Under the back garden of an unremarkable family home in Las Vegas is an extraordinary 16,000sq ft, all-pink, bomb-proof bunker. Inside are decadent bedrooms decorated with crystal chandeliers and baby pink wallpaper, and a bathrooms with a hot-pink toilet, white marble hot tub, and opulent golden fittings. Surrounding the house is a hand-painted mural of the countryside, and an underground garden with a swimming pool and fake trees growing out of a carpet that stands in for grass.
“It’s basically a house within a house,” explains Juno Calypso, who spent three days of solitude in the bunker, for her project What To Do With A Million Years. Designed to be safe from any disaster or intruder, the bunker was built in 1964 by Avon cosmetics founder Gerry Henderson and his wife, who were terrified of a potential nuclear breakout in the advent of the cold war.
Calypso is currently showing the series at London’s TJ Boulting gallery, and has transformed the basement space into a version of the garden, complete with fake plants, eerie mood lighting, and a soundtrack of soft romantic rock that plays against the continuous sound of running water from a stone fountain in the corner.
Hayati, meaning “my life” in Arabic, reflects on photographer Karim El Maktafi’s dual identity as a second-generation Italian born to Moroccan parents. The images were taken in both Italy and Morocco, and are all shot on an iPhone SE [Special Edition] – for a couple of reasons.
El Maktafi got into image-making via smartphones as a teen, after using them to take photographs of his friends. After graduating from the Italian Institute of Photography in 2013, he decided to return to the device with a more trained eye, when he decided to shoot Hayati.
He also uses a smartphone camera is because it’s less intrusive. El Maktafi’s family were against him photographing them, and in general don’t approve of photography as a career, which is why their faces are either cropped out or disguised by rays of light in the project. Using a smaller camera proved gentler way to record them, and the many other people involved.
In classical music, ‘impromptu’ refers to a short improvised piece, performed spontaneously with little or no preparation. Géraldine Lay’s new book, Impromptus, is a visual take on the term, aiming “not to tell a story about the place or the country, but to be out of time”.
Lay first encountered photography during her course in History of Art at the University of Lyon; studying the history of the medium, she was bitten by the photography bug, and went on to study at the National Photography School. She graduated in 1997, and is now based in Arles.
“Initially, my practice was part of my daily life, I had no preconceived ideas or strict subject,” says Lay. “I got into the habit of always having a camera with me, to take advantage of all the little moments of life.”
Michael Danner’s book project Migration as Avant-Garde has won the prestigious Dummy Award at the Fotobookfestival Kassel. His mock-up will now be produced and published by Kettler, Germany, the company behind Mathieu Asselin’s hit book Monsanto: A Photographic Investigation.
Born in Reutlingen, Germany in 1967, Danner studied photography at Fachhochschule Bielefeld in Germany and the University of Brighton in the UK, and lived in London from 1997 to 2000. He’s now based in Berlin, where he lectures in photography at the Berliner Technische Kunsthochschule. He has previously published three monographs and seven artist’s books.
His project “examines the new ways in which migrants are pursuing their hope for a better life”, he states, adding: “The term ‘avant-garde’ stands for progress and the way of a pioneer. Driven by the desire to give their lives meaning, and guided by their own integrity, migrants bring new perspectives and points of view to our society. The origin of his work was the reading of a 1943 text by the philosopher Hannah Arendt.”
“I’m one of those people who enjoy feeling like they have control over their life,” writes Mitch Epstein in Rocks and Clouds. “My house is spare and neat, my photographic expeditions are well-planned. Here’s the thing about clouds: they don’t give a damn if you planned well or not.”
Despite having spent years confronting the FBI as he shot power plants throughout America, and photographing his father as he faced the failure of his business, clouds ended up being one of Epstein’s trickier subjects. “I’m really just at the mercy of the unexpected and nature itself,” he says, adding that shooting clouds requires malleability and intuition – both of which are central to his practice.
For the past five years, Ulla Deventer has been working on a project about women and prostitution in Europe – specifically in Brussels, Athens and Paris – but also, more recently, in Ghana. Several of the women she met in the project’s early days were from West Africa, and Deventer developed close friendships with some of her subjects, who inspired her to travel to their home countries to experience first-hand what life is like for women living there.
In May 2017, Deventer, who was born in Henstedt-Ulzburg in north Germany and is now based in Hamburg, spent six weeks in Accra, the capital of Ghana, where she focused her attention on the living conditions of the city’s youth, particularly its female sex workers. She recently returned to the country to continue to work on Butterflies Are a Sign of a Good Thing – an extension of her original project.
In Chongqing, the largest city in southwest China, city officials have been planting trees for over a decade, aiming to create a “forest city”. But after investigating the origins of these trees, photographer Yan Wang Preston uncovered a troubling process. “The whole concept of trying to be green is being abused,” she says.
By way of example, she tells the story of Frank – a 300 year-old tree that’s a central character in her new book, Forest. When Preston first encountered Frank in 2013, he was being forcefully removed from a small village that was soon to be flooded by one of the Yangtze River dams. Frank was sold to the owners of a five-star hotel in a nearby county for 250,000 RMB, approximately £30,000. When asked whether the tree would survive, one of the guards replied with pride, reassuring Preston that they were all experts at transplanting trees.
But when she returned in 2017, Frank had been dead for over two years – and so had the tree that had followed it. “The older the trees are, they more likely they will die, because it’s hard for them to adapt to a new environment,” says Preston. “I’m interested in the complicity of this whole thing. For the tree, it’s very sad to be relocated. But then, the ultimate motivation is to be closer to nature”.
Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to seek, and to enjoy in other countries, asylum from persecution.” The UK was one of 48 nations to vote in favour of this document at the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 and now, 68 years later, British photographer Sam Ivin prints the full statement at the start of his first photobook, Lingering Ghosts. Made up entirely of portraits of people who have applied for asylum here, the book is a reminder – and an interrogation – of the codified notions of morality and fairness that Britain voted for but is not living up to.
Published by Fabrica, Lingering Ghosts asks a simple but thorny question – what does it mean to be an asylum seeker in the UK? Ivin scratched out the eyes of his subjects to induce a sense of foreboding, discomfort and alienation. As Gemma Padley notes in the foreword, “Once we remove our ability to connect with a subject through a person’s eyes, what remains?”
“Anxiety is universal,” says Arielle Bobb-Willis. “Some people paint, others do yoga or exercise [to help manage it]. Whatever it is, everyone can find something to make them feel more present. I was just lucky to have found mine early in my life.”
At first glance, Bobb-Willis’ work is happy and lighthearted – full of colour and movement. But there is also an uneasy element to her work, in the, often faceless, models’ awkward positions. “When you dig a little deeper, you see that part of me that was in a depressive state,” says Bobb-Willis, “All the uncomfortable positions I have been in, it plays a huge role in my work.”