At the Caixa Photo Prize exhibition at the Caixa Forum in Madrid Emilio Morenatti’s winning entry is a set of portraits of Pakistani women who have deformed faces as the result of acid attacks. Though the images (and the stories that accompany them) are horrifying, their formal portraiture portrays the women with a dignity that their attackers would wish to deny. While most of the work on view from ten photographers depicts extreme poverty or situations of institutional violence, the photos share a moderate to high-gloss aesthetic - even Walter Astrada’s images of post-election violence in Kenya share the same color balance qualities of National Geographic. Only Mikel Aristregi’s photos of life among the alcoholic vagrants of Mongolia’s capital Ulan Bator occasionally present their subjects in a flatter light.
Staff at the exhibition said that the catalog sales for this annual exhibition are normally slow. But this year, with a stoic, acid-etched face staring out from its cover and many more contained within, the catalog has proved to be a surprise hit. While aestheticized images of violence make for a wider audience and more palatable viewing, I was left wondering what gripping but graphic photos didn’t make the cut because they weren’t photographic enough.