01 May 2011

Is Sean O'Hagan a Birther? On the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize

The prize for 2011, according to this release in The Guardian, has gone to self-proclaimed "documentary storyteller" Jim Goldberg of that oh so radical Magnum Agency (here too). Don't get me wrong; this is not a complaint about the judges's decision. The Magnum crowd, Goldberg surely included, are talented and produce lots of provocative work. The point is that the jury this year, like it regularly has done in recent years, has honored a pretty mainstream documentary undertaking. Moreover, they have honored a photographer who works for what arguably is the pre-eminent establishment institution in the field. No news there. I say all this just to remind folks about Sean O'Hagan's plaintive voice which is raised annually asking why, oh why the Deutsche Börse short list is so full of dreaded "conceptual" photography. O'Hagan, of course, is photography critic at The Guardian. You can find his most recent missive on the matter here.

On this topic O'Hagan has begun to remind me of those "birthers" who, despite all evidence to the contrary, insist that Obama was born on some other planet. In other words, his view seems wholly impervious to evidence or argument. And, like the birthers too, O'Hagan is seeking to
police the boundaries of legitimacy. They are obsessed with political legitimacy, he is worried about what is legitimate photography. I've pointed out several times - here and here and here - how far off the mark O'Hagan actually is. In light of this recent decision, we can, I suppose, anticipate a reconsideration in his column any day now?

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