The Wick - Isabella von Ribbentrop The Wick - Isabella von Ribbentrop
Monday Muse

Interview Isabelle von Ribbentrop, the Executive Director of Prix Pictet 

Interview
Isabelle von Ribbentrop
25 July 2022
Interview
Isabelle von Ribbentrop
25 July 2022
Earlier this month, Prix Pictet, the world’s leading award in photography and sustainability, announced “Human” would be the theme for its tenth cycle. We caught up with Isabelle von Ribbentrop, Head of London Communications and Global Head of Branding, Advertising and Sponsoring at the Pictet Group, and this week’s Monday Muse, to discuss the inspiration behind the decision.

Isabelle has been instrumental in the development of the Prix Pictet photography award, which since its creation in 2008 has become one of the world’s most important arts prizes tackling sustainability and environmental issues.

Prior to joining Pictet, Isabelle also founded the Elisabeth von Senden foundation, named after her late mother, with her father and brother. The purpose of the foundation, the first of its kind, is to provide psychological support for cancer patients. She continues to be responsible for fundraising and marketing in order to donate money to various oncology wards.

THE WICK:   Talk us through your typical Monday.

Isabella von Ribbentrop:   As a working mother with four children, Mondays are defined by one word: multitasking. My typical start of the week begins at 6am, when I try to take a quick Pilates class if I have time. Those early hours of the morning, before any of the family or my colleagues wake, are priceless to me. I am able to reconnect with myself and have a moment of stillness. After that, the chaos begins. I quickly get myself and the children fed and ready. The older children don’t need much help anymore, but my four-year-old miracle, Cecilia, is still very much dependant on me, so I make sure to give her proper time and attention. Once everyone is out of the door, I take Cecilia to kindergarten on my way to our office in Moorgate, all while taking our weekly 8.45am group communications call. Once I finally make it to the office, I spend a few hours answering and prioritising emails. My day is filled with countless meetings, sometimes all over London; I get calls from colleagues, agencies and teachers, all needing something from me. I carefully multitask and, by the time I get home, all the kids are waiting for me, where we have dinner and go over homework. Some Mondays, of course, I have gallery openings or dinners that I cannot miss, so the day truly never ends until the early hours of Tuesday. Sleep is a rare occurrence for me.

TW:   How did you become so passionate about photography?

IVR:   I became passionate about photography when I realised the power it holds to transmit messages that might not be transmissible via any other medium. You have to understand, when we founded the Prix Pictet photography prize in 2008 iPhones and digital cameras were not commonplace and photography was just starting to really consolidate into a respected medium. Instagram was not founded yet. I found myself drawn again and again to these beautiful, and often heavy, interpretations of our world.

TW:   What’s Prix Pictet and its mission?

IVR:   The Prix Pictet’s mission is to harness the most powerful photographs in the world to bring attention to the most pressing issues on sustainability facing our planet. We believe spreading the word, both digitally on our website, social media channels and podcast, and in person through our international touring exhibition, which goes to the best museums in the world, might inspire others to make a difference and take action against the appalling damage we have done to the planet and to each other.

TW:   Tell us the inspiration behind the theme “Human”.

IVR:   Human is a special cycle for the Prix Pictet, as it marks our tenth theme after 12 years since we established the prize. We thought carefully about this and decided on “Human” to celebrate human creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship, but also note how too often our triumphs in science, engineering and technology come at monumental cost. The human story is more often a tale of conflict and despair than of nurture, love and co-existence.

“I do believe amateur photographers can be emerging artists, and that is why the Prix Pictet is not limited to established photographers.”

Isabelle von Ribbentrop

TW:   Social media has changed our lives in many ways – anyone with an iPhone can be a “photographer” these days. What would you say are the distinguishing features separating amateur photographers from emerging artists?

IVR:   I believe the main difference between amateur photographers and emerging artists is both in the aesthetic “eye” of the image, the composition, the use of colour, and the purpose and storytelling of the project. That said, I do believe amateur photographers can be emerging artists, and that is why the Prix Pictet is not limited to established photographers, but open to anyone who is nominated by one of our nominators around the world.

TW:   Which photographers should be on our radar?

IVR:   One of my favourite Prix Pictet photographers is Rena Effendi. Rena’s work speaks to me like no other. If my grandmother, Marianne Princess zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn, nickname Mamarazza, was still taking photographs (she is 102 years old), I would suggest to have her on the radar.

TW:   Les Rencontres d’Arles, the annual summer photography festival, opened three weeks ago. Why is Arles so relevant to the photography world? What did you think were the highlights of this year’s programme?

IVR:   Arles is incredibly important to the photography world because it holds the oldest art fair in the world dedicated to photography. The Rencontres d’Arles was started in 1970 and has since only grown in reputation and fame. In a way, it is a mecca where photography lovers and professionals alike gather every summer to discuss new and old ideas, show established and rising photographers. We have a great relationship with Arles and hold a special presentation in the Roman Theatre on the Thursday night of every opening week, presenting our new theme or shortlist, depending on the year, and accompanied by a special presentation by our previous winner. This year’s highlights for me were the established feminist avant-garde exhibition, as well as the up-and-coming exhibit inside of an old church by photographer Noémie Goudal. Not part of the programme but close to my heart is the James Barnor retrospective exhibition at the LUMA Foundation, which travelled from London after being shown at the Serpentine Galleries. As global head of branding, advertising and sponsoring of the Pictet Group, I was responsible for sponsoring this exhibition in London and we even featured James on our Prix Pictet podcast, A Lens on Sustainability.

TW:   What do you think is the most exciting development in the world of photography in recent years?

IVR:   It’s a hate/love relationship for me because I do believe the invention of digital smartphones with cameras has been revolutionary for the world of photography: it allows anyone, anywhere, to communicate that which before might have been ignored or forgotten. And yet, at the same time, it has made the image ubiquitous. It has made truly meaningful photographs rare.

TW:   It’s almost impossible not to read something about NFT art these days. As an established collector yourself, have you collected or considered collecting an NFT artwork?

IVR:   I have not yet stepped into the world of NFTs, although I did hold a panel on them last year with Sotheby’s at Photo London. I believe there is immense value in the physicality of an artwork. While digital images do have a meaning and an impact, they can reach wider audiences and be dissected by thousands, I still hold that a tangible work cannot be replaced. I see it in people’s eyes whenever we hold the Prix Pictet exhibition in a museum or gallery. They can “scroll” by.

TW:   Could you tell us more about the Elisabeth von Senden foundation?

IVR:   We started the Elisabeth von Senden Foundation named after of our mother after she died of breast cancer at the age of 49. Our aim is to support cancer patients psychologically along with the necessary medical care, and their families through trained specialists. It has been proven that the human psyche plays a very important role in the process of the treatment. Most of the insurances or hospitals do not cover this important aid for cancer patients financially. The Elisabeth von Senden foundation aims to fund those trained specialists for cancer patients and their relatives.

TW:   If you could be featured in any artwork, which would it be and why?

IVR:   If I could be featured in any artwork it would be Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer drawn in 1665. The painting is startlingly modern and real, almost as if it were a photograph. The way she is portrayed looking over her shoulder, locking her eyes with the viewer as if attempting to establish an intimate connection, is simply breath-taking and captivating.

TW:   What’s your favourite culturally curious spot in London?

IVR:   I adore the Serpentine Galleries, but also find that Cromwell Place, the newly established art club, has an interesting array of upcoming galleries and artists. I also like exploring Shoreditch’s vibrant art scene: from unexpected street art in every corner to new galleries dedicated to radical artists, there’s always something interesting around the corner.

TW:   Finally, who would be your ultimate Monday Muse?

IVR:   My ultimate Monday Muse would be Kate Middleton. I adore her poise and strength and truly admire the way she is able to hold herself against all odds.


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