DMU photography professor short-listed for international prize


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A Professor of Art and Photography at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) has been short-listed for a prestigious international prize as she prepares for two major exhibitions.

Professor Lala Meredith-Vula’s work is to be judged by a jury of eminent artists and curators from around the world for the Shpilman International prize for Excellence in Photography 2020, which is awarded every two years by the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

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Prof Meredith-Vula (right) at her Lisbon show with former minister Catarina Vaz Pinto

The Shpilman Prize started in 2010 to recognise photography as a leading contemporary cultural medium with an objective to cultivate original work in the field of photography.

The winner receives $45,000 which is one of the largest competition prizes offered to photographers anywhere in the world.

Lala said: “I am really overwhelmed by this news. It is great recognition and it means more people will see my work.

"My motivation is to make great art that will move people. I want to uncover hidden memories and fragments of the soul and being nominated will allow me to further my work.”

Making the shortlist comes as Lala, who has exhibited photography around the world, prepares to join fellow artists for an exhibition called Drawing Together, which is a celebration of drawings by eminent artists from the past 50 years.

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One of the photos unearthed from archives during lockdown

The exhibition, to be held in Leicestershire at Loughborough University’s Sir Robert Martin Hall Gallery, includes drawings by two winners of the Turner Prize, Richard Deacon (1987) and Elizabeth Price (2012), as well as Eileen Cooper, the first female Keeper of the Royal Academy Schools, and two other Royal Academicians, Nigel Hall and Michael Landy curated by Professor Phillip Lindley.

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Lala is also having her photographic research published in a ‘book-as-an-exhibition’ by Photomonth in Poland.

Lala’s work for the Drawing Together exhibition reflects on her practice of sketching scenarios that she has captured on camera. It harks back to the days of using film rather than digital cameras when you could not review the shot you had just taken.

Lala would sketch the scene as she saw it – something the artist still does today.

“Nothing was instant when working with photographic film. You would have to wait until you developed the film to see what you had got, so I would draw what I had thought I had captured and what I would have liked to have captured.

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Lala's picture of white geese returning to a war-torn village in Kosova

“For example, when I was taking pictures after the Kosova war, a village that had been burned out had this flock of white geese returned and they looked like angels in amongst this destruction. I drew pictures of huge geese in the sketches that were far bigger than they were in the final photographs as my mind had seen them as such a dominant force in the picture. The final photo was still great but some how the emotions were distilled in the photograph where as in the drawing my emotions were allowed to be expressed.

“It is nice to feature in a local exhibition that my students can come and see – which in this difficult time will be much valued .”

During lockdown, Lala has also taken time to look through old photographs spanning her 30-year career as an artist. It’s something she recommends everyone does, even if it is looking through pictures on a smartphone.

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Contact sheets of hundreds of photos Lala has been revisiting during lockdown

“As a photographer you take so many photos and you pick out the few that you want to share and then the rest are filed away,” Lala explained.

“Lockdown has been tough, as it has for everyone. Some days at home you just ask ‘what’s the point’. Often the rejected shots say more about your life and the ones you mean to exhibit and show. But by going through my old photographs I am looking at impressions of inside of my retina and what it saw 30 years ago. There are some extraordinary photos that seem to communicate to my older self. It is helping me piece together my own life.”

Prof Meredith-Vula’s first show was in Damien Hirst’s landmark exhibition Freeze in 1988, now famous for launching the wave of Young British Artists (YBA).

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Lala with her father at one of the Haystacks she photographed in 1989

She has exhibited her Haystacks series of photos in Kassel, Germany as well as Chicago, USA, Lisbon, Portugal and Turin in Italy.

Lala was born in Sarajevo, in what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina, to an Albanian father and British mother but moved to Britain as a child. The first of her Haystacks photos was taken in 1989, the year after she completed her studies at Goldsmiths in London.

That year, she first toured the Kosova countryside with her father, who was an architect interested in historic Balkan heritage, taking photos of haystacks and other images to tell deeper tales about how war, blood feuds and economic pressures had affected people.

You can view more of Lala's work on her website

Posted on Wednesday 16th September 2020

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