Introducing... Kassel Dummy Award
We spoke with Dieter Neubert, Director of Fotobookfestival Kassel and the Kassel Dummy Award, in advance of the award's first presentation in Australia at PHOTO 2021—supported by the Goethe-Institut.
Well, Kassel is a medium-sized city in the center of Germany, which you normally, as a German, always drive past. Kassel was one of the most beautiful cities in Europe before World War II, but the medieval old town was then 97% destroyed in the area bombardment of the Allies on October 22, 1943 and unfortunately, as was the fashion at the time, not rebuilt in the former style. But since 1955 Kassel has also been the city of the world’s most important exhibition of contemporary art, the documenta, which will be take place again next year, curated by the Indonesian artist group Ruangrupa. Kassel is also home to Europe’s largest mountain park, a Unesco World Heritage Site, with Wilhelmshöhe Castle in its centre, which houses important works by Rembrandt, Frans Hals and Rubens.
When we initiated the first Photobookfestival in 2007 and exhibited photo books of a Dutch photography class, the Mexican photographer Pablo Ortíz Monasterio suggested us to organize a regular competition for aspiring young photographers, where the 1st prize would be the production and publication of a photobook. This then gave rise to the Kassel Dummy Award, which, in addition to the first prize, offers the 50 best books the opportunity to be presented at a traveling exhibition worldwide. Over time, many books that were on one of our shortlists were discovered and published by other publishers.
The good thing about it is that you can see what ideas are being worked on in different countries and continents. Bringing these ideas and visions together in an award with an travelling exhibition makes it a very exciting cultural exchange.
It is always the books that show new photographic perspectives and bring them into a convincing adequate book form. These books can be very simply designed and produced, but they contain something previously unseen and magical. There are not many books of this type among the entries, but there are every year a few that show me that there is always something new and forward-looking to discover.
After 10 festivals and now two years with COVID-19 I like to close this series in Kassel. I like the idea of cooperating with others and making a kind of traveling festival or travelling festival elements which are not bound to a fixed place. We already had something like that in Paris in 2012 and in Beijing in 2016. Let’s see, we are working on it.
All 47 books on the 2020 shortlist which will be shown in Melbourne are worth a close look. I have favorites, but as long as the international jury, of which you are a member, has not made a choice, I would like to keep them to myself.
If you are a beginner in bookmaking, take part in book workshops to learn the basics, take also part in one or more of the dummy awards that are now everywhere around, go to festivals and visit the book stands there, rent a table yourself and show your books, take part in portfolio and book reviews and book publishers and curators there that you normally can’t meet so easily.