War critique wins the Deutsche Börse Photo Prize
Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin's updating of Bertolt Brecht's Marxist War Primer takes the £30,000 prize
In complete contrast to last year's winner, the British artist John Stezaker, 2013's recipients of the £30,000 Deutsche Börse Prize for a "significant contribution to the medium of photography", trained as photographers, have been imbedded with troops in Afghanistan and shot in South Africa's high security prisons. Nevertheless, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin's winning collage still might not meet the traditional definition of photography.
The pair were awarded the prize at The Photographers' Gallery in London last night for their work, War Primer 2. This is a latter-day adaptation of the German playwright Bertolt Brecht's 1955 book, War Primer. In this original edition, Brecht chose press photographs taken during World War II and paired these with his own short, epigrammatic poems. A shot of Adolf Hitler seated at a modest dinner table is accompanied by these lines:
You see me here, eating a simple stew
Me, slave to no desire, except for one:
World-conquest. That is all I want. From you
I have but one request: give me your sons.
Broomberg and Chanarin simply update Brecht's book, keeping the old text, but applying new images - press images, but also low-resolution phone shots and screen grabs - to draw up War Primer 2. The Hitler page described above is pasted over with an image of George W Bush delivering a Thanksgiving turkey to US troops in 2003. This might sound simple, yet War Primer 2 proves to be a remarkably effective work, showing familiar conflicts in a new light, while demonstrating the unchanging nature of the war, and the enduring bite of Brecht's words.
Brett Rogers, the gallery director, said that the prize jury chose War Primer 2 because "they applauded the way in which the project pushed the boundaries of the medium, exploring the complex relationship between image and text while drawing on elements from both the past history of photography and the present image economy."
To find out more about the prize, go here. For more on Broomberg and Chanarin, go here. To see some of the pair's more traditional photojournalism take a look at our Bruce Mau book, Life Style, and our London School of Economics collaboration, The Endless City. For war coverage, consider our James Nachtwey book, Inferno, and our fabulous VII Photo Agency collection of photographs, Questions Without Answers.
Finally, for more on photographic developments old and new, please browse all our wonderful photography books.