02 December 2015
Jack Latham (b. 1989, UK) has won the Bar Tur Photobook Award 2015. Now in its second year this significant annual award offers an emerging photographer the opportunity to work with The Photographers’ Gallery and independent UK based publisher Here Press, to produce their first book to a value of £20,000.
The winner was announced at a special ceremony at The Photographers’ Gallery and the winning project will be published in the Autumn of 2016. Four runners-up also received £1,000 each towards the realisation of their proposed photobook project.
Latham’s winning project, Sugar Paper Theories, traces an infamous true crime case in Iceland. Known as the Reykjavik Confessions, it involved the testimonies of six people, who confessed to two murders they had no apparent memory of. In 1974, Icelandic police were left baffled by the disappearances of two unrelated individuals: 18-year-old Gudmundur Einarsson and 32-year-old family man, Geirfinnur Einarsson. Set ten months and fifty kilometres apart no connection was established between the two cases. Extensive searches and investigations followed but failed to yield any physical evidence or explanations.
In December 1975, police arrested petty criminal Saevar Ciesielski and his girlfriend Erla Bolladottir for an unrelated minor offence. Encouraged by unsubstantiated rumours, the police decided to treat these two as prime suspects in both disappearances. Following a prolonged and intense period of interrogation Ciesielski and Bolladottir confessed to the murders while also implicating three of their closest male friends and another acquaintance. Eventually all six signed statements attesting to their roles in the murders which – with no bodies or any other proof linking the six to the case – served as the only evidence against them in trial.
In the years following their convictions and prison sentences, details of the investigation emerged. These revealed systematic physical and mental torture and drugging resulting in what one leading forensic psychologist referred to as “memory distress syndrome” or memory implantation. In 2011 a government task force assembled to review the original police inquiry, concluded the six confessions to be unreliable and recommended a retrial of the case. Today the affair known as the Reykjavik Confessions is considered by many as one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in the history of the Icelandic legal system.
In Sugar Paper Theories Latham explores the story using a mix of archival images, ephemera and his own photographs of interiors and ghostly, snow covered landscapes. These convey the sinister nature of the events that took place and the fog of memory and ambiguity still surrounding them.
Latham was selected from an open submission of applicants, all currently studying or graduated within the last five years from UK-based BA or MA visual arts courses. He was chosen by a panel of experts: Brett Rogers, Director, The Photographers’ Gallery; Armon Bar-Tur, entrepreneur and philanthropist; Harry Hardie & Ben Weaver, co-publishers, Here Press; Celia Davies, Director, Photoworks; Chloe Dewe Mathews, artist; Cheryl Newman, Photography Editor and Hannah Watson, Director, Trolley Books.
The four runners-up are: Sebastián Bruno (b. 1989, Argentina) for Duelos y Quebrantos which follows the fictional character of Don Quixote across the Castilla La Mancha region in Spain while drawing parallels to the area’s local inhabitants; Eugenio Grosso (b. 1984, Italy) for Papers depicting pieces of discarded immigration documents of refugees found along the path between the Greek and Macedonian borders; Nikolas Ventourakis (b. 1981, Greece) for Defining Lines which pictures the invisible borders between sovereign British and Cyprian territories in and around the Royal Air Force base in Akrotiri; and Luisa Whitton (b. 1991, UK) for What About the Heart? documenting the construction of lifelike robots in a Japanese laboratory.
Brett Rogers, OBE, Director, The Photographers’ Gallery said: In the second year of this Award, the Jury were impressed with the diversity and quality of the applications, applauding the passion and intelligence which all the photographers demonstrated in approaching the photo-book as a unique platform for telling stories. The 5 proposals present a rich range of subject matters drawing on literature (Bruno); the political (Ventourakis, Grosso); as well as the increasingly blurring boundaries between the worlds of man and machine (Whitton). In his winning proposal Latham uses archival and contemporary images to reimagine a horrific crime from the 1970s which continues to haunt Icelandic society.
Amnon Bar-Tur said: I'm delighted by the high standards of this year's shortlist, which display the extraordinary talent coming out of UK arts colleges. This year’s winning photobook, Sugar Paper Theories, not only makes a compelling photographic statement but stands with last year’s photobook, Santa Muerte, as an important social commentary of our time. I look forward to seeing Sugar Paper Theories being realised over the course of the next year and to keeping in touch with the four runners up, all of whom form part of the rich pool of emergent photographers that this award acknowledges.
Harry Hardie & Ben Weaver, co-publishers, Here Press said: We are honoured to be working with The Photographers’ Gallery and Amnon Bar Tur in the second year of this Award. By choosing to work with a different independent UK publisher each year the Award offers a unique platform to showcase the artists’ vision alongside the distinct practices of the publishers. We are excited to be working with Jack Latham on interpreting this multi-layered story and look forward to seeing how the runners up develop their projects, all of which will make excellent books.
Image: © Jack Latham. Crime Scene Reconstruction, Keflavik Harbour. Courtesy of Benedikt Eyþórsson