Art & Photography

Deutsche Börse Prize: Cristina De Middel

The Spanish photographer reveals to Alex Jackson how a desire to show reality informs her fictionalised exhibition

The shortlisted work of Cristina De Middel, one of four Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2013 finalists, The Afronauts, is that contemporaneous beast – the self-published photobook.

Adapted for exhibition at The Photographer’s Gallery, London, it’s a dreamy, subjective, version of one of the most bizarre follies of the last century: Zambia’s space programme. For De Middel, that story represented the perfect inspiration to question the language and veracity of photography as a document.

Why embark upon The Afronauts?

It was a reaction to being a photojournalist for many years. I became very disappointed with the media’s tendency to simplify reality and could not keep working for them; I stopped believing it could change anything. This story’s told by putting all the images together, not just one image trying to tell the story.

Did your photojournalistic training still influence the work?

Untitled, from the series The Afronauts, 2012

I took the list of things you must respect as a photojournalist and did the opposite, one by one!

Was there any event that made you feel this way about the media?

I was in Dakar, Senegal, for an earlier project and had this naïve expectation of a tribal Africa but I arrived to find a city similar to Paris. I was like, “How’s it possible to have millions of images of Africa and yet no room – in any platform – to say Africa is, actually, fine?” The Afronauts story was the perfect chance to raise that debate.What was the biggest challenge putting The Afronauts together?

Ensuring the same experience as in the book. You have to discover the story, little-by-little and I wanted to play with this atmosphere of enigma and was inspired by the way moviemakers work, not only sequencing but also production.

For photographers, how important is it to know the heights you’ve reached can now be scaled via self-publishing?

Obviously from my experience you could get to the same point but I think success forThe Afronauts is based on its story. Unlike many photo-books you do not have to be a photographer to understand it; you can simply focus on the story rather than the technical aspects, language, or codes photographer’s can use.

Self-publishing itself is not as easy as it seems. I sent 3,000 emails and went to the Post Office 400 times. This is why I’m not ready to do a second edition!

Click here for more of Cristina’s work. The Photographers’ Gallery, 16-18 Ramillies Street, London W1F 7LW. Read our Mishka Henner interview here. Come back to Port tomorrow as we’ll be profiling the four finalists this week