The Prix Pictet for photography has a straightforward mission: “to raise public awareness worldwide to the social and environmental challenges of the new millennium.” This year’s theme of growth—-“a blessing or a curse”—-doesn’t exactly break new ground, and the shortlisted images on display at the Corcoran Gallery of Art include a lot of what you might expect, including a hypercomplicated aerial landscape in Los Angeles (Edward Burtynsky, natch), a time-lapse image of an assembly line inside a Toyota factory, and a frenzy of disassembled high-tech waste dumped in Ghana. (The fact that the images were taken as far back as the late 1990s only underlines their familiarity.) On the other hand are a handful of stunning—-and revelatory—-images. Chris Gordon documents the stomach contents of seabirds in the Pacific’s Midway Atoll—-lots of “food” plucked from ocean that proves to be plastic flotsam instead. Christian Als offers a view inside a Kenyan slum (top) where 1,500 people live crammed into the space of a soccer pitch, eloquently summarized by an aerial view of roofs that fit together like jigsaw puzzle pieces. Taryn Simon takes viewers into the Hanford nuclear site in Washington state (bottom), where submerged waste casts off a deadly but mesmerizing blue glow. And two artists address rapid expansion in Asia—-Michael Wolf’s images (below) of the dizzying, pastel-hued, high-rise architecture of Hong Kong, and a clever video by Yeondoo Jung, in which he morphs together a series of still portraits of people who live in a high-rise tower in Seoul; the apartments are identical in design, so the families’ decorative touches offer the primary points of difference.
The exhibition is on view 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday to Nov. 13 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, 500 17th St. NW.