Luke Willis Thompson was announced as the winner of the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2018 for his project autoportrait at a special evening ceremony held at The Photographers’ Gallery, London on Thursday 17 May.
The award was presented to Thompson by BBC broadcaster and journalist, John Wilson.
First shown at Chisenhale Gallery, London, 23 Jun – 27 Aug 2017, autoportrait presents a ‘collaborative’ and silent filmic portrait of a young US woman, Diamond Reynolds.
Reynolds was catapulted into the media spotlight after she live streamed the moments immediately following the fatal shooting of her partner, Philando Castile, by a police officer during a routine traffic stop. It immediately went viral, amassing over 6 million views and adding to the ever-increasing catalogue of self-shot footage exposing police brutality towards people of colour. With their four-year-old daughter in the back seat of the car, Reynolds’ almost simultaneous documentation feels like an instinctive act of preservation and justice seeking. Of her decision to both film and post the footage she said, “Because I know that the people are not protected against the police, I wanted to make sure if I died in front of my daughter, people would know the truth.” And yet, while the clip undeniably contributes towards a growing call out of such injustices, it also illustrates how an intensely personal moment of indescribable grief and terror can so rapidly become public property, shared, reframed and harnessed beyond control.
Continuing personal and artistic concerns around widespread police violence and prejudice – as well as an ongoing interest in the way images can now be circulated without reference permission or recourse – Thompson contacted Reynolds via her lawyer with a proposal to make a ‘sister image’; a counterpoint to the one circulating beyond her control as a way to return her agency and address some of the subsequent issues arising.
Agreeing to the project, Reynolds collaborated closely with Thompson over every aspect of the film, right down to choosing what she wore, how she was framed and lit, and from what angle. Shot in 35mm Kodak Double-X black-and-white film in two four-minute, almost completely static takes, Reynolds is cloaked in silence and private meditation. She appears unaware of the camera, and by default the spectator. Presented in a darkened room, silent, apart from the whirring of the large-scale projector, autoportrait presents an environment that is at once both intimate and communal. The space is hers and presents a self-aware, uninterrupted moment of reflection, rebutting the frenzy of the ‘real’ moment and its rapid spiral into the public realm.
autoportrait was conceived as another way to offer a riposte to what Thompson has termed the ‘perverse’ genre of witness videos. He has imposed strict conditions over the presentation and distribution of the project. No element is reproducible without consent. It exists as an analogue piece only, without a digital equivalent. Thompson intends for the work be viewed only in the context it was created for: a blacked out room with the projection as the only light source, so all attention is given over to the barely-moving image. That the film is without sound is another vital component of its existence, representing the ‘lack of voice’ given to both victims of crime and injustice and those that don’t survive it;
Speaking on behalf of the panel, TPG Director and DBPFP18 Chair of Jury, Brett Rogers said, “As a contender for a prize focused on photography, the jury felt autoportrait imbued the moving image format with the singular, almost obsessional quality of a still photograph, drawing attention to its materiality, and challenging viewers to consider the personal stakes of representation in an environment at once intimate and collective. Ultimately though, the project was felt to invite a timely and prescient conversation around the nature of image control, authorship and distribution in a way that expands rather than shuts down the debate.”
The 2018 panel consisted of Anne-Marie Beckmann, Director, Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation; Duncan Forbes, Curator and visiting research Fellow at the Westminster University; Gordon MacDonald, Artist, Curator and Editor; Penelope Umbrico, Artist. Brett Rogers was the non-voting chair.
The 2018 shortlist comprised Mathieu Asselin, Rafal Milach, Batia Suter and Luke Willis Thompson, all of whose nominated projects will remain on display at The Photographers’ Gallery until 3 June 2018.