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citigroup photography, the photographer's gallery

Old equals new at the 2004 Citigroup Photography Prize.

joel sternfeld view images
peter fraser view images
david goldblatt view images
robert adams view images

“Trying to understand what the world around me is made of,” is how photographer Peter Fraser explains his desire to capture the static image. It’s a basic motivation that seems to be shared by all four nominees in this year’s competition.

American Joel Sternfeld went on an eight-year road trip back in the 70s, and here we get to share some of what he saw. An escaped elephant being watered on a country road, a fireman choosing a pumpkin as a house blazes behind… He sees our world as quirky in its normality, as having blurred boundaries between us and our landscapes. Although the pictures aren’t current, they resonate today through Sternfeld’s sentiment that he’s “trying to find beauty and harmony in an increasingly uniform, technological and disturbing America”.

By contrast, Sternfeld’s peer Robert Adams’ bleached out, black-and-white America seems depersonalized and bleak. Mourning the loss of the unspoilt Western American landscape, he questions what’s been lost through insatiable greed and the mad desire to car-park the world. He seems to ask: could we redeem the world if we were able to grow our pitiful human natures? Again, the images chosen feel old for the prize, based in a Wonder Years-styled world, but his point seems to be growing louder with time.

More social commentary from David Goldblatt who, living in apartheid-divided South Africa, shows both worlds of that era. It’s a land of apparently decent white folk propping up the abuse delivered on black people, thanks to their passivity. A world where a woman’s smart-occasion clothes shield her from coming into contact with her assaulted, poverty tattered countrymen who now neighbour her in the gallery.

Peter Fraser stands as the odd one out and maybe has a chance of winning because of it. The insignificant objects we leave behind become grand through his camera. He says “everything is strange” and recreates that for us. A plastic barrel retains an intensely vibrant blue liquid. A will-o’-the-wisp caught in an oily spill against bright red paint. No political or social agenda here, just “Hey, look at this!” childish wonder.

Photography is one of the easiest ways to display how you see the world to other people. And thought-provoking, personal world views are what’s unashamedly offered in this year’s prize - four opportunities to look at the world through different eyes. Rowan Kerek 30 January 04

The Citigroup Photography Prize 2004 is at The Photographers' Gallery, London, until 28 March 04. The winner is announced 04 March 04.

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