Interview Bruce Gilden and Karin Rehn-Kaufmann

2.800 submissions from 101 countries: record participation and no easy task for the jury of the Leica Oskar Barnack Award 2012 (LOBA). Despite the vast number of entries, the choice of the winner and finalists still had to be made. For this purpose, Magnum photographer Bruce Gilden, Stephan Erfurt, Director C/O Berlin, Valérie Fougeirol, Creative Director of the Magnum Gallery in Paris, Karin Rehn-Kaufmann, Artistic Director of the Leica Gallery in Salzburg, and Brigitte Schaller, Art Director of LFI, met together at Leica headquarters in Solms.

The award was first launched in 1979, in honour of Oskar Barnack the inventor of the Leica and the pioneer of small format photography, and it has long become one of the most important awards for photographers. Four years ago it was decided to launch the competition on-line as well, and to present the submissions on the internet; this led to an increasing number of entries, which means more work, but also a broader selection for the jury. They honour the unerring powers of observation that give expression to series touching on the relationship of people to their surroundings. Similarly, the powers of observation of the five members of the jury were also in high demand, focusing on making the best decision for 2012. The winners of this year’s Leica Oskar Barnack Award will be honoured July 3, during the Recontres International de la Photographie in Arles, France.

LFI: Mrs. Rehn-Kaufmann, you’ve been an Leica Oskar Barnack Award jury member many times. In what way was it different this year?

Karin Rehn-Kaufmann: Because the makeup of the jury changes a little each year, the meetings we have are influenced by the people taking part. It’s always new and always exciting. I think Bruce Gilden had enough of the Wetzlar night life and wanted to get back to New York as quick as possible. Joking apart, we've never been ready as quickly as this year. 

LFI: Mr. Gilden, this is your first time as a LOBA jury member. How did you find the experience?

Bruce Gilden: Interesting.

LFI: Did the jury reach a quick consensus regarding the finalists and the winner, or were there hefty discussions?

Bruce Gilden: Yes. There was a relatively quick consensus regarding the finalist and the winner. There was some discussion and I think we were down to fourteen people at the end, and to be truthful we could have taken several of the ten finalists out and replaced them with several others, but ultimately, I think we picked the ten best.

Karin Rehn-Kaufmann: The more controversial discussions were not so much about the winner, whom we agreed on pretty quickly, but about the quality of the photography. In the future we’re bound to change the form of the call for submissions to the LOBA.

LFI: Why did Frank Hallam Day’s series win this year’s LOBA? 

Karin Rehn-Kaufmann: With Frank Hallam Day we have a winner whose image composition is different to any former LOBA winner. A reportage on a completely different artistic level.

Bruce Gilden: He won because he had the best series by far.

LFI: How do you assess the relationship between ‘tough’ photo journalistic reports and ‘soft’ themes?

Karin Rehn-Kaufmann: I consider that a tough photo journalistic report can also be ‘soft‘, if it moves me and retains its human face, the ethics, giving them form in the image creation. ‘Soft’ subjects leave me indifferent; they’re boring if they don’t somehow express the essential, the soul, making it visible and experiential.

Bruce Gilden: To me, it’s about whether the photograph works in the frame and has a strong emotional content – not in a clichéd way. The photograph has to be done with a personal vision, it’s not just about reporting what’s there.

LFI: Which themes or series caught your attention in particular; what surprised you when you viewed the submissions?

Bruce Gilden: My attention was caught by how many people went to exotic places and did quite uninteresting work. Like Horace said ‘You can change the skies, but you can’t change the soul.‘ I was surprised how weak, generally, the submissions were.

Karin Rehn-Kaufmann: We had a lot of really convincing submissions, but sometimes we had a similarity of the themes dealt with, such as Haiti, or a
lack of connectivity between the pictures under one theme; and the image design wasn’t always of good quality.

LFI: Many thanks for your time!