News Column

Eyewitness: V&A, London: Photo prize winner gives viewers food for thought

May 22, 2014

Mark Brown, Arts correspondent

A five-year project to photograph how food gets to the table - with images that include farm pigs, crinkle-cut chip production lines and apple washing plants - was yesterday named winner of the internationally prestigious Prix Pictet photography prize.

This year the theme of the prize, which since 2008 has rewarded work addressing environmental and sustainability issues, was consumption. Eleven shortlisted photographers or their representatives gathered at the V&A to hear former UN secretary general Kofi Annan name Michael Schmidt, born in Berlin in 1945, the pounds 67,000 winner.

The prize's director Michael Benson said the jury faced "an immensely difficult task" choosing between artists "all at the top of their game . . . it is a fantastically diverse and very rich group of artists".

Schmidt's monumental work Lebensmittel (food stuff) was displayed as a kind of giant collage - 60 photographs taken between 2006-10 which the artist said were taken "everywhere" telling a story of how our food gets to us, to our table or to our fast food restaurant. The shortlist included photographers from countries including Ukraine, China, Japan, Colombia and the US, and included Laurie Simmons, mother of the creator and star of Girls, Lena Dunham.

Benson said the jury debate had been intense and went on much longer than planned.

The chair of judges Sir David King, the UK's special representative for climate change, said: "We were privileged to review work by 11 truly outstanding photographers. Lebensmittel is an epic and hugely topical investigation into the ways in which we feed ourselves." Schmidt was not able to make the presentation because of ill health. The Nigerian photographer Abraham Oghobase was also absent - because the British government refused him a visa. "I don't think it's good enough frankly," said Benson. "I would like to apologise to him publicly."

Martin Barnes, the V&A's senior curator of photographs who was also on the jury, said the museum was an ideal place to host Prix Pictet given it was the first museum in the world to stage a photography exhibition, in 1858.

"The Prix Pictet is a very important prize which raises pertinent issues, not just about the theme of consumption and sustainability, but also about the nature of photography." The Prix Pictet, a Swiss prize, has been won in previous years by Benoit Aquin, Nadav Kander, and Luc Delahaye.

Prix Pictet at the V&A 22 May - 14 June


Abraham Oghobase, untitled, detail

Hong Hau: My Things (detail)

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Source: Guardian (UK)

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