Winner: The Swamp by Sofia Borges

“Reality as mud as dense as air” reads the spine of Sofia Borges’ book The Swamp, and equally, the series of photographs that she presents is as leaden as it is impenetrable. Spanning a seven-year period, it largely records Borges’ countless visits to natural history museums, zoos, aquariums and research centres, where the artifice of reality became her point of focus. For Borges, displays such as habitat dioramas serve as the ultimate form of representation, where objects have the virtuous task of representing “themselves” – a type, genre or group that is inherently bound to language through layers of history and meaning. As a motionless walrus lies in its plastic Antarctic locale and the beady eye of a fossilised bird catches your glance, what glares back at you from the depths of The Swamp is not the thing itself, but the image, of an image, of an image.
“What I seek are images, which, in their very artifice, are able to present themselves as a problem”, Borges has said. Beyond the comical absurdity of museological spectacles that spawn the living dead, The Swamp takes aim at the notion that images can be “read”. Taking inspiration from the insoluble language of Beckett on the one hand, and the cinematic mind-twists of Lynch on the other, Borges disrupts logical processes of comprehension, offering seemingly random sequences of images, whose monstrous forms and coarse surfaces purposefully assault the senses.

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2016 Shortlist

Mathieu Asselin
Monsanto: a Photographic Investigation
Elena Anosova
Sofia Borges
The Swamp
Daniel Castro Garcia
Foreigner: Migration into Europe 2015-2016
Kapil Das
Aikaterini Gegisian
A Small Guide to the Invisible Seas
Adam Golfer
A House Without a Roof
Benoît Jeannet
A geological index of the landscape
Liz Orton
A Handful of Soil for the Whole Horizon
Maciek Pożoga
Cérémonies: The inconvenience of an established process


Polly Fleury
Polly Fleury is Director of Special Projects at the Wilson Centre for Photography where she works closely with museums, artists, galleries and publishers bringing historical and contemporary photography to public view.

David Chandler
David Chandler is a writer, editor and curator, in the fields of contemporary photography, photographic history and the visual arts. He is also a Professor of Photography at Plymouth University.

Jennifer Higgie
Jennifer Higgie is an Australian novelist, screenwriter, art critic and co-editor of the London-based contemporary arts magazine, Frieze.

Michael Mack
Michael Mack is the publisher of MACK.