Photographers given recognition as graphic artists

I feel I should respond to some of the comments made by Oliver Bennett about The Citibank Private Bank Photography Prize (DW 9 March).

At the moment we are witnessing the world of fine art – maybe for the first time – seriously engaging with the medium of photography. This should not be seen as a bad thing. One reason why this is happening is that photography is going through a very exciting and creative period.

It is only recently that photographers – like previous winner of The Citibank Private Bank Photography Prize Rineke Dijkstra, or this year’s winner Boris Mikhailov – have been recognised as photographic artists. Previously, they were called photographers and had their work exhibited in photographic galleries and not art museums.

To say the prize is ‘marginal’ or that ‘art photography does not capture the public imagination’ is missing the point. This year over 70 000 people will visit the prize exhibition. I suspect this is many more visitors than attend the exhibitions which promote both the Nikon and Kobal awards. Plus, this year the prize has received extensive coverage in the media, creating a new audience for photography, who have been brought up to know their Damiens from their Traceys, but have little knowledge about the masters of photography, old or new. It is the job of The Photographers’ Gallery to convert this audience to a wider understanding of photography.

That many more people read daily newspapers is not a convincing counter argument. Look through any daily newspaper today and there is very little reportage to see. In many respects, it is photojournalism which is now on the fringes.

Call them artists, photographers or even photojournalists, but it is Mikhailov, Nan Goldin, Richard Billingham or Corinne Day who today are telling stories using the stills camera.

They may not be photographing famine or war, but their work looks at the world around them, family and friends in new ways.

They are using many of the conventions we generally associate with excellent photojournalism, committed to their subject, working over a long period of time and creating images that make us stop to view the world in a different light.

To quote from the print material soliciting nominations for the prize, ‘The prize rewards the individual judged to have made the most significant contribution to the medium of photography over the past year and aims to recognise a wide range of work, including photojournalism, documentary, fashion and fine art photography.’

So the door is wide open to photojournalists. Be judged against the likes of Mikhailov. Let’s put aside styles and look at the images.

Paul Wombell

Director

The Photographers’ Gallery

London WC2H

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