JTF (just the facts): A group show gathering together the work of 13 photographers, variously framed and matted and hung in a series of darkened galleries on the museum’s fourth floor. (Installation shots below.)
The following artists have been included in the show, with the number of works included and their details as background:
- Sally Mann: 7 tintypes, 2008-2012
- Mark Ruwedel: 7 gelatin silver prints, 2017-2020
- Fabrice Monteiro: 6 inkjet prints, 2013-2020
- Brent Stirton: 9 inkjet prints, 2013
- Christian Marclay: 2 digital chromogenic prints, 2020
- Lisa Oppenheim: 6 silver gelatin photograms exposed to firelight, 2021
- Daisuke Yokota: 4 inkjet prints, 2016
- David Uzochukwu: 5 dye sublimation prints, 2015, 2019, 2020
- Rinko Kawauchi: 4 c-type prints, 2001
- Mak Remissa: 8 inkjet prints, 2014
- Carla Rippey: 7 transfer prints on Japanese paper with stitching, metal leaf (2 in vitrines), 2009-2019
- Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige: 5 photographic prints (3 single images, 2 multi-image sets), 2011-2012
A catalog of the exhibition has been published by teNeues (cover shot below).
Comments/Context: When the Prix Pictet first arrived on the photography scene in 2008, it felt a little like a well-funded and perhaps self-serving corporate marketing effort. Founded by a Swiss bank, its goal was to use photography to engage with issues surrounding global sustainability, and each cycle of the prize in the years since has been organized around a one word theme, like “Water”, “Growth”, “Power”, “Consumption”, and “Hope”. The ninth round of the prize took place in 2022 with the theme “Fire”, and this show represents the final shortlist of artists selected by the jury, including the eventual winner, Sally Mann.
Over the years, the Prix Pictet has gained in stature and respectability, largely because it has consistently wrestled with complex and increasingly urgent global topics in broadly inclusive ways, and done so by leveraging the work of some of the most exciting and respected photographers around the world. As a theme, the newest “Fire” is an example of smart decision making on the part of the organizers – in a contemporary world awash in a crisis of out-of-control wildfires, fire is both a current event and a hot-button issue (no pun intended) for peoples across the globe. Seen more abstractly, fire also presents all kinds of artistic possibilities, from the literal heat, smoke, and char of flames, to the more poetic passions of fiery emotion and the burning cycles of destruction and regrowth.
Sally Mann won the “Fire” prize for her project “Blackwater”. In a series of darkly moody tintypes, she documents the Great Dismal Swamp, a vast mid-Atlantic region between Virginia and North Carolina. The location provides a particularly rich subject, as the swamp was once used by those fleeing slavery, and more recently has been devastated by wildfires. Her images offer us an armchair visit to a bleakly charred hellscape, where the trees and underbrush have been torched and thick rumbling smoke rises from the standing water. Amplified by the chemical washes and shadowed hollows of her 19th century process, Mann’s vision of the land feels scarred and wounded, with both its past and present reeling from powerful traumas.
The aftermath of wildfires also provides the subject for Mark Ruwedel’s project. Southern California routinely burns during the dry fire season, but the La Tuna fire in 2017 proved to be the largest in the history of Los Angeles. Ruwedel’s patiently tactile black-and-white photographs capture the undulations of the dry scorched hillsides, where thin roads, blackened tree trunks, and single figures populate otherwise desolate charred landscapes. With the highway cutting through the empty hills and the city in the distance, his images make clear just how intertwined this parched land is with more populated areas nearby, providing an ominous reminder of the now constant threat of further destruction by fire.
Many more of the shortlisted artists engage with the theme of “fire” in a more process-centric manner. Lisa Oppenheim uses shifting firelight to solarize her re-interpretations of floral still life paintings (previously reviewed as a solo gallery show, here). Daisuke Yokota actually burned all of the works from one of his earlier exhibitions, the photographic documentation of that process becoming the visual raw material for a new round of iterations and manipulations. And the artistic duo of Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige have burned (and rephotographed) postcards of Beirut from the 1960s and 1970s; the fancy hotels and seaside resorts that once populated the city were destroyed by the bombardments and street battles of the Lebanese Civil War, that history now represented by cards warped, cracked, and puckered by fire.
Two other artists employ collage as a way to express motifs of fire. Christian Marclay brings together scraps from comic books, movie stills, and other imagery to create screaming composite faces, which might be applied to any number of current or future outrages. Carla Rippey sticks closer to the literal subject of fire, stitching together fragments of fire, burning, and immolation imagery into frieze-like arrangements of orangey despair, the self-destruction aspect of some of the scenes resonating more widely than she might have initially imagined.
Staging and performance play a more central role in three other shortlisted bodies of work, amplifying their storytelling possibilities. Mak Remissa sets dark silhouettes in smoky surroundings, wrestling with childhood memories of fleeing the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Fabrice Monteiro takes a more magical approach to ecological disaster, creating towering composite deities that emerge from garbage dumps, poisoned waterways, and other scorched and ruined landscapes like warning beacons. And David Uzochukwu brings the enchantments down to a more human level, with a young woman with hair made from black smoke and a young man with wisps of flame emerging from his hands.
The final two artists included in this show take a more literal approach to fire, seeing the duality of horror and hope in its presence. Brent Stirton’s photographs document the efforts of an Indian plastic surgeon to treat severe burn victims, his clinic filled with pain, disfigurement, and a surprising degree of optimism. And Rinko Kawauchi looks to the night sky, capturing the ephemeral beauty of blossoming fireworks.
Given this particular menu of contestants, the jury’s choice of Sally Mann’s work seems apt; her images have a deeper resonance of gut punch sophistication and complexity than many of the other works on view. That said, seen as a group, these various projects provide a neat cross section of perspectives, approaches, and process choices, all tied succinctly together by a sprawlingly inclusive subject. In a summer season decorated with thematic group shows, the Prix Pictet: Fire exhibit offers a more layered and thoughtful experience than most, building up a multi-faceted aesthetic definition of “fire” that willingly encourages further thinking.
Collector’s POV: Since this is a museum exhibition, there are of course no posted prices. And given the large number of photographers included, we will forego our usual discussion of individual gallery representation relationships and secondary market histories.