Each year, when this prestigious prize returns to the Photographers Gallery I am reminded of a friend of mine, a good amateur photographer. He is almost always dismissive of the show because he feels it strays too far from the art of taking a picture. At this exhibition there is always more involved than a person simply using a camera. And so it is this year as ever; upon exiting the lift on the 5th floor you are immediately presented with a half re-built vintage Fiat 500.
The car sits central to the room surrounded by meticulous photographic studies of its renovation. Erik Kessels' father used to restore them as a hobby and in one of the series of photographs there is a record of his former work. That Kessels' father died suddenly mid-restoration of this model is the basis of the project. The series represents the relationship of the artist and father; unreconciled and forever incomplete. It works as a very poignant legacy and personal shrine.
Working on a completely different scale, Laura El-Tantawy's inclusion in the show revolves around the Arab Spring and the Egyptian civil unrest in Cairo between 2011 and 2013. As a document to a time it is a vital political record. Over a number of videos and smaller works some of the imagery comes across as painterly but despite its worthiness there is an over-familiarisation to some of the scenes. The revolution was televised. Looking at much of these presentations is a reminder of the TV coverage of the time more than a re-evaluation of the events and how they ultimately played out.
Tobias Zielony's offering is equally political but hits the mark by both being more timely and using a little humour. The plight of African refugees and their journeys and resettlement in Europe is a hot potato being juggled as the exhibition shows but what is more unusual about this reportage is the way Zielony has turned a cliche on its head.
So many stories and so much literature exists proclaiming that the grass is greener on the other side; alternatively here the artist has published heartbreaking interviews and first hand accounts of the struggles and violence befalling the refugees that risk the Mediterranean crossings. These newspapers focused on the risks not the rewards. And uniquely they were published in the very countries so many of the refugees were coming from. It's a confrontational exercise.
The final photographer melds the personal and the political. Though often travelling alone and at the very fringes of the classified world, Trevor Paglen captures images of government buildings and projects involved with mass-surveillance and data capture. On one level it is a fascinating glimpse into the depths the military and government agencies go to secure global safety, in another it is a terrifying display of the extent of this pursuit.
The winner has yet to be announced but the range and flow of this show is of as high a quality as any year. The viewer is brought to the most personal reflections on loss to the most extreme military capturing of information, via displays of great unrest and huge unhappy resettlement. There is much to think about looking at these displays and the judges will have their work cut out.
http://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/deutsche-b-rse-photography-foundation-prize-2016-5 until July 3rd