Pictures that Are Captions: Bieke Depoorter Wins the 2009 Magnum Expression Award

© Bieke Depoorter

A picture says it all. But not quite. Just like words, pictures suffer from inadequacy, fragmentation and frustration when it comes to expressing this world. And yet capturing whatever essence or non-essence life throws at us remains the task at hand for a great number of writers, painters, sculptors, filmmakers and photographers. Most of us are somewhat familiar with the Flemish Masters of yore, and now it seems we have a new master in the making. Not with the pen nor brush, but with a camera: photographer Bieke Depoorter is the winner of the 2009 Magnum Expression Award. Established by Magnum Photos and HP in an effort to raise awareness and inspire change through photography, this year's theme was 'communities'.

According to a mission statement on the Magnum website the photographic industry is in a state of change. New means of production and distribution have made images more widely available to an ever-growing audience. And yes, a picture may most definitely not say it all, but its impact has certainly changed on a global scale. Hence Magnum is constantly on the lookout for 'innovators as well as artists', folks whose pictures inspire social awareness and compassion in a creative and new fashion.

Bieke Depoorter fits that bill perfectly. Oe menia - With me, the series she was awarded for, shows living rooms in forgotten Russian villages. 23-year-old Depoorter, now freshly graduated from the Ghent Academy, boarded the Transsiberian Express and travelled through Russia. Her knowledge of the language: non-existent. Yet a small note summarising her intentions opened many a door for her. She took pictures of each place she spent the night at and of the families who welcomed her. The kind of pictures that have such an intrinsic power of expression that they become their own captions. She wasn't so much bothered about the technical perfection of her work, as about the social aspect of her project: "In fact I often felt a more intense connection to people whom I spent only one day with over there than with people whom I have known for years here."

The Expression Award doesn't just earn Depoorter a $ 10,000 grant, but also the mentorship of the Magnum photographers who made up the jury. Plus she also got a  HP Designjet Z3200, an exhibition, $ 3,000 dollar credits at Blurb for the production of a book, and an option to make her project into a 'multimedia essay' with the support from Magnum in Motion. Which just goes to prove that a picture is so much more worth than a thousand words.