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The Prix Pictet has become in three years the main photographic prize devoted to sustainability and the environment. The prize is as broad as photography itself, as it needs to deal with the vast range of issues those words encompass. The prize seeks to address policymakers and decision-makers as well as individuals, and its breadth helps to do that.
And because photography is what it is, these pictures are multicultural, needing no translation wherever they go.
Given that huge reach and spread, it is important to underline clearly what these pictures are not. Though some of them come from the long tradition of the documentary, and though all of them address important things which are most certainly taking place, none of these pictures is a plain account of fact. Stéphane Couturier’s swirling recreations of a Toyota plant are simultaneously explorations of noise and haste and of light and colour. The American Taryn Simon acts as an old-fashioned investigative reporter in the very same pictures that she acts as a bang-up-to-date conceptual artist. We have heard for some time of a vast gyre of non-degrading plastic floating in the Pacific, and have perhaps seen images of it. But when a photographer such as Chris Jordan at the very top of his game makes searing pictures like those here, then the gyre ceases to be a geographical curiosity or an economic footnote, and becomes an urgent call to action for all of us.
Photographers of the calibre of those assembled on these pages find it natural to use photography to propose abstractions: there are arguments here, and economics, prejudice and a full immersion in culture. Photographs are rarely neutral, and never in the context of a prize which has actively refused to be pigeonholed as “just” photojournalism or “just” art photography.
The photographers whose work you see here are not merely great camera operators; they are great communicators. One of them will be announced in March as the winner of a prodigious SFr100,000 (£64,000) award. But all of them demand serious attention. It’s sometimes called engaged photography; but the engagement starts with you, the viewer, making the effort to follow where these great photographers lead you.
Francis Hodgson is the FT’s photography critic
An exhibition of selected works runs until November 27 at Galerie Les Filles du Calvaire, Paris, www.fillesducalvaire.com.
For more information on the Prix Pictet, go to www.prixpictet.com