Interview Christian Caujolle
“To observe with great precision the relationship of people to their environment and express it in a photographic series” continues to be the assignment of the Leica Oskar Barnack Award (LOBA). In its 35th edition, Leica Camera AG honours JH Engström with the coveted award for his Tout Va Bien series. The photographer will receive 25 000 euros prize money and a Leica M with lens. The Newcomer Award goes to Wiktoria Wojciechowska for Short Flashes. Her prize money amounts to 5000 euros and she also receives a Leica M with lens. A jury, including Michael Biedowicz, Picture Editor ZEITmagazin, Christian Caujolle, Curator as well as founder and former Director of Agence VU’, Martin Kollar, photographer and 2014 award-winner, Karin Rehn-Kaufmann, General Representative of Leica Galleries International and Brigitte Schaller, Art Director Leica Fotografie International, was responsible for choosing the two winners and nine finalists. The winner of the Leica Oskar Barnack Public Award was once again determined on the I-shot-it platform. Through an online voting process, members of the community chose Ryan Spencer Reed for his series Afghanistan: Stands Alone. He can look forward to prize money amounting to 2500 euros, as well as a Leica compact camera. The 70 finalists, as well as the winning series, can be seen at: www.i-shot-it.com.
In 2015, around 1700 photographers from 88 countries submitted their works to the Leica Oskar Barnack Award. Most candidates came from Germany (248) followed by China (194, France (174), Italy (105) and the USA (101). JH Engström is from Sweden and would like his winning series to be seen as visual poetry. He is not concerned with a concrete theme, but rather with associative photographic storytelling, with a strong autobiographic element, which he hopes will inspire viewers to create their own road maps. LFI spoke with jury member Christian Caujolle, about his thoughts on the award, the winners and reportage photography.
LFI: To start with, did your favourite win?
Christian Caujolle: Yes, because I find JH Engström’s series has great aesthetic coherence, a lot of freedom, an element of real risk and a full commitment that questions the possibilities and limits of today’s photography.
LFI: JH Engström is convinced that his ‘stories’ prompt the viewer to find their own path therein. What did you find?
Caujolle: A way of creating a distance to the world: a variable and fluid distance, with a rhythm that allows space for interpretation, while also imposing a very strong presence of reality. I had the feeling that I was being asked to look at the world attentive to certain details, certain points of view, certain perspectives that astound me because they are not the ones I’d normally have. In following the images, I have the impression that I’m opening up to another way of discovering today’s world.
LFI: What did you expect from the Leica Oskar Barnack Award (LOBA)?
Caujolle: That it confirm very clearly – and this is the case of all the works selected as well as the winner – that photography remains a pertinent tool for exploring and questioning the world. It should also demonstrate that nowadays, as long as the work is coherent and sincere, very different perceptions and styles can coexist and be pertinent, even if the choices and aesthetics appear contradictory. The LOBA is a good place to observe current issues surrounding photography, its richness and its diversity.
LFI: Did you differentiate between classic picture reportage and free artistic work?
Caujolle: Personally, I don’t see any difference. It’s not a criteria. In fact, it’s this distinction between ‘reportage’ and ‘art’ that has clouded perceptions and confused the placement of large amounts of documentary photography. Henry Cartier-Bresson is, without a doubt, an artist, who did reportages and had them published in the most renowned magazines. So what’s the big deal? Anyway, history shows that the best ‘reportages’, the most convincing ones, the ones that touched me, were those where the photographers were able to imbue them with their emotions, their feelings, their subjectivity. And without freedom in their approach and tone, too many of them have simply become excellent professionals.
LFI: Do you consider that the LOBA’s ‘journalistic photography with a humanistic requirement’ has been implemented in the works by the finalists and winners?
Caujolle: The actual notion of humanism and the way it is visualized, has evolved considerably over the last quarter century. We have had too much work paved with good intentions, but full of old clichés – aiming at having a clear conscience while being totally ineffectual. Everyone is distressed by pictures of an emaciated African child caught in the middle of a famine. Does showing it nowadays manage to change anything? We live surrounded by so many images, that we photographers should be extremely prudent and precise in our choices and in our practices. It is possible that true humanism today is about asking pertinent questions at the right time, and to ask them of the politicians who should be there to solve the problems – something an artist can not do. So, it’s about anticipating, about alerting people, which is when our choices gain meaning. There is a deep and dialectic relationship between ethics, aesthetics and politics, when it comes to the management of our collective life.
LFI: And your wish for future contenders would be ...
Caujolle: … that they continue to amaze and surprise me!
After studying, Christian Caujolle, born in 1953, was editor in charge for photography at Libération. In 1986, he created Agence VU “Photographer’s agency”, followed by the gallery of the same name in 1998. He was the artistic director of the Rencontres d’Arles in 1997, participated in many international juries and published several books. He now teaches at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure Louis Lumière, writes for photo books, is artistic director of several photo festivals and independent curator for numerous exhibitions. He is a columnist and publisher of portfolios, collaborates with various international publications and regularly teaches workshops.