Prix Pictet: The global award in photography and sustainability



The global award in photography and sustainability

The countdown started last July when the twelve shortlisted photographers for the fourth Prix Pictet were announced during the opening week of The Rencontres d’Arles. The evening was held at the suggestive Théâtre Antique and was preceded by an exclusive cocktail party in the garden of the Hôtel Particulier. Gathered to celebrate were international professionals and artists.

The Prix Pictet is a global award that addresses the social and environmental issues that challenge the world today. This year’s theme—as it will be later unveiled—was Power. Such a broad and open category certainly leaves space for several interpretations and opportunities. The definition of power can be read from multiple points of view.

I finally arrived in Arles, after a long journey filled with hiccups, just slightly—or fashionably—late at the cocktail party: 7 p.m. on the 4th of July. I run into friends and colleagues I hadn’t seen in a while but also in unexpected discoveries and encounters. During the cocktail I was introduced by a nominator of the prize to Jacqueline Hassink whose work, I have to confess, I wasn’t much familiar with at the time. I was glad that I could learn more about Jacqueline’s work, first hand, from her words.

Since the early 1990s, Hassink’s research has been an ongoing sociological and visual investigation of the identity of economic power. Focusing on high profile CEOs of international corporations, she created striking “portraits of power”. The series selected is Arab Domains for which the photographer collaborated with Mrs. Al Kaylani, chairwoman of the London-based Arab International Women’s Forum, who introduced her to the thirty-six managers included in the project.

Arab Domains follows up on Female Power Stations: Queen Bees (1996-2000) where Hassink studies the corporate world from a female prospective in the United States, Europe and Japan. Arab Domains focuses instead on the Middle East and aims at unveiling the stories of women who, overcoming the cultural prejudices that historically weighed them down, have been able to lead a successful career and maintain their role within the family.

I was fascinated by Hassink’s meticulous approach to portraiture; the research and preparation to the project are quite impressive. She found her own way into the genre capturing the personality that manifests through the environments that the women live in. She portrayed them by photographing both their office boardroom desks, and home dining tables. Each set up revealing the individuality of the woman and reflecting the position that she covers in her private and professional life.

The screening of the work of the twelve shortlisted photographers at the Théâtre Antique—later that evening—was welcomed with opposite reactions as expected. The names announced were: Robert Adams, Mohamed Bourouissa, Edmund Clark, Luc Delahaye, Jacqueline Hassink, Joel Sternfeld, Daniel Beltrá, Philippe Chancel, Carl De Keyzer, Rena Effendi, An-My Lê and Guy Tillim.

Joel Sternfeld’s When It Changed was to me a very fitting choice. Contradictory data and unreliable information had contributed over the years to increase the lack of awareness on the matter. In 2005, Sternfeld decided to attend the 11th United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Montreal, Canada.

The horror on the faces of the delegates in attendance is the strongest message that this body of work could deliver to the public. It doesn’t need words or further explanations. It’s all dramatically there as documented by the photographer: The anxiety and the shock provoked by realising that the world was actually on the verge of an ecological collapse. Facing the truth, Sternfeld hoped could open to the possibility of a real change. The title of the series, When It Changed, refers exactly to a turning point where the lost balance between Earth and Man can start to be restored.

As a prolific bookmaker, Sternfeld imagined the project as an informative, small and inexpensive volume to broadly distribute to help spread knowledge about the subject. The images are accompanied by texts from newspapers—presented in the form of wire service transmission—that report chronologically the facts that eventually brought, over the last two decades, to climate change.

The countdown ended on the 9th of October when the Honorary President of the Prix Pictet, Kofi Annan, announced the winner at the opening of the exhibition presenting the work of the shortlisted artists at the Saatchi Gallery in London. Luc Delahaye won this year’s award: “ultimately the sheer artistic excellence, dramatic intensity and narrative power of [his] photographs shone through. He is a very worthy winner of the fourth Prix Pictet,” says Sir David King, Chair of the Jury.

The next venue of the exhibition will be held at Galerie Vanessa Quang in Paris (16th-24th November) during the biennial Mois de la Photo and the annual photography fair, Paris Photo (15th-18th November). The art world gravitates to Paris this month to meet & greet before Miami in December.


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