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UPDATE 11.12.2010, 12.30pm PST: Forsell didn’t win. Announced 11.12.2010 in Bristol, UK Yvonne Venegas won for her portrayal of Maria Elvia de Hank, millionaire wife of an eccentric former mayor of Tijuana. Julian Roeder and Rob Hornstra also made the final three.

This will not put me off making predictions in the future. I’ll just have to adopt unpredictable criteria and decision making to mirror the many diverse jury panels. And I stand by everything I said about Forsell’s ‘Life’s a Blast’.

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© Linda Forsell

I’ll admit to being rather deflated after looking over the shortlisted photographers for this years Magnum Expressions Award. Many of the portfolios of 15 images had only one or two photographs that held my attention.

The Magnum Expressions Award is in reaction to the brave new world photographers face; new communities, new audiences, new distribution channels and bold ways of working. It is an award designed – so it says – to reward young photographers surfing the shifting sands beneath the industries footings.

It should be said that most of the 19 shortlisted artists have hunted down engaging subjects. Bepi Ghiotti‘s Sources is an enigmatic thesis on man and nature. Yvonne Venegas’ fly-off-the-wall study of Maria Elvia De Hank wife of an eccentric millionaire and former Tijuana mayor bristles with ambivalence toward the subject.

I was pleasantly surprised to see the presence of two photographers who’ve briefly pricked my attentions. Anastasia Taylor-Lind and Irina Rosovsky both deliver strong entries. (On PP, Taylor-Lind, here and Rosovsky here).

These would be my 3rd through 6th placed finalists, but who’s listening to me, eh?

In at second is Jenn Ackerman. This high finish has little to do with my interest in photography that exposes the shortcomings of the US prison system and everything to do with the excellent way Jenn portrays the daily battles and extreme stress of a prison operating as a makeshift and unsuitable lock-up for men with severe mental health disorders – Trapped: Mental Illness in America’s Prisons. (I’ve featured Jenn’s work here on PP before.)

© Linda Forsell

‘LIFE’S A BLAST‘ BLOWS THE COMPETITION AWAY

And, winning by a country mile is Linda Forsell. Gold star.

Forsell’s Life’s a Blast is the sweetest, never-escaping-bitter view of Palestine, Gaza & Israel I’ve ever clapped my eyes on. It’s about family more than ideology, but it is never glib. It is work as conscious of history as it is the mores of fashion photography. It’s a slow-ride through the lives of people associated by a larger conflict but not solely defined by it; a stunning presentation of gazes drenched in humanity.

Against all odds, Forsell forces the viewer to think on the stories of her subjects; on the seconds before the shutter snapped and the years yet to come. I have not seen a single project that so swiftly dismantles many of the entrenched tropes of conflict photography. Life’s a Blast shifts perceptions like only the very best of photography can.

© Linda Forsell

Caption: Mahmod Berghote stands with one of Marah Zoo’s world famous painted donkeys. The zoo’s two white donkeys caused an international media frenzy after Mahmod and his brother spent three days painting stripes onto them using black hair dye. Unable to find an animal trader to bring a real zebra through the tunnels from Egypt, the Berghote family decided to make a fake pair using white donkeys. The story was reported all over the world as a feel good news piece and often used as an example of the Palestinian people’s resourcefulness during the siege of Gaza.

Anastasia Taylor-Lind for VII Photo published a remarkable photo essay about the zoos of Gaza.

The idea that imprisoned people can make a business out of smuggling, locking up, and exhibiting animals is deeply ironic. There are about a dozen zoos in Gaza and their story is intertwined with world politics in a way that would be unimaginable anywhere else.

In 2005, Dr. Saud Shawa, a veterinarian, decided to establish Palestine’s National Zoo. For Shawa, this was about education and showing people how to care for animals. Supported by international donors, he built a spacious compound with big cages, a theatre, a library and research centre – Gaza Zoo, the first one ever in the strip.

Gaza zoo opened in January 2006, the same month Hamas, the radical Islamist movement, won elections in Gaza. The border was closed and the initiative was halted before it could get started.

As of today, not a single zoo has been profitable. In fact, there is only one person in the Gaza strip who benefits from the business: Abu Nadal Khalid, an animal trader. He has animals drugged and smuggled through the infamous system of tunnels leading from Egypt into the strip.

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