Monthly Archives: June 2014

Andreas Gursky: Early Landscapes/Bermondsey

Gursky <<< Clickable PDF essay. “The Iron Cage of Boredom” by Julian Stallabrass

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The first thing I noticed about this exhibition was the vast size of the photos – enormous prints that were monumental in themselves; I had never seen a Gursky before and was not expecting to be affronted with such large (and such impressive) photographs. Digital versions and even printed versions in books do not do justice the work of Gursky- you really do need to be standing in front of one to truly appreciate (visually and emotionally) these works of art; “Gursky’s big, colour images encourage two distinct modes of viewing: from afar, standing in the middle of the gallery, and as we must look at them when reproduced at a small fraction of their size upon the page; or very close up, with our noses against the glass, like nineteenth-century viewers of the first photographs with their pocket lenses.” (Stallabrass) There is just so much to see in them and to loose yourself within that without having the immense pieces staring you right in the face, there is no way of ever feeling that overwhelming sense of engrossment as you are encompassed by a Gursky masterpiece.

I did not fully appreciate how Gursky worked until after I’d seen the exhibition and looked him up and was surprised to find that lots of his pieces are digitally manipulated – used to highlight reality at its most banal. “Within these well-disposed grids nothing much happens, no single element is plucked from its series and no incident is ever fixed upon. The gaze of photographer and viewer remains spread equally over the whole picture: the light is always flat, the colours subdued, and Gursky often takes considerable distance and height from his subjects, pressing them against a single, unified field.” (Stallabrass) Gursky say’s “I am at pains to make everything look as normal as possible. The people must be neither too beautiful nor too ugly nor too old so that the viewer is distracted by them.” (Conversation between Andreas Gursky and Bernhard Bürgi in the catalogue from the Kunsthalle, Zurich, Andreas Gursky, 1992. Trans. Fiona Elliott.) Yet is that reality? For we are faced with old and young, ugly and beautiful in our day to day lives, Gursky is choosing to represent his own ideal of reality that he see’s bets fit for his work.

“Gursky’s early landscapes provide the viewer with the concrete experience of a specific place as well as what Martin Hentschel has called a ‘mental image … that has been passed down to us by the history of painting and inscribed into our collective memory’” (Sprüth Magers London, Press Release). His landscapes are a mixed array of scenes that seem so everyday to us yet when we are forced to stand still and stare at them when he presents us with daily life, they become something of an enthralling captivation. You begin to notice life around you with ‘Gursky’s eyes’ and attention to acute details in the movements of life otherwise deemed as insignificant. If I could capture the banal and make it a moment worth standing still for I’d be happy!

In terms of exhibiting, all the frames in this exhibition were exactly the same and this had a very dramatic effect- different sizes but all the same wood/frame- it looked professional and sleek and didn’t detract from the images and overall was very effective and striking. When exhibiting my own work I can draw inspiration from this exhibition.


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Again, the size of these works was colossal. I found myself staring at them for minutes without blinking, just drifting away with “everyday” people depicted in the scenes. It was almost intimidating walking into such a large collection of Gursky’s work, not fully aware of how it works and the meaning behind his images. It is only on reflection now that I can appreciate just what iconic images I have been lucky enough to see first hand. These have made me question how I work and also the notion of how much you tell the viewer versus what you allow them to interpret and decide for themselves. I’m extremely glad I got to see these exhibitions but should like to go to another now that I am more aware of the work that goes into a Gursky and how the iconic photographer works.


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Initial Proposal



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June 15, 2014 · 4:29 pm


his deceptively glamorous images always masking a deeper political and sociological comment


I was not sure what to expect when going to view this exhibition, I knew LaChapelle’s work with celebrities so was unsure of what “Land Scape” would have to offer. I was expecting bright, vivid colours and a flare of eccentricity however I was not expecting what I saw. From afar the pieces just looked like very digitalised and flamboyant landscapes yet the closer I moved to them the more I saw the reality of the situation- they were sculptures, “on closer inspection we realise that these are far from real, rather we notice oddly recognisable objects – mobile phones, cans, egg cartons, drinking straws – a plethora of repurposed by-products of our disposable age – making up gigantic complexly handcrafted scenes”. They were incredible! Every time I looked at an image again I saw something new- I like the idea of making my viewer look more than once to fully appreciate my images, always giving them more. LaChapelle is toying with reality and the human effect on the landscape and environment in a vibrant and enticing way- through captivating photography he is making a political statement that you can’t ignore. I enjoyed seeing his work and was very impressed with the delicacy of it and his underlying messages- I’d like to be able to have subtle yet impacting morals in my own work.

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The Enclave

Mosse documents a haunting landscape touched by appalling human tragedy in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where 5.4 million people have died of war related causes since 1998. Shot on discontinued military surveillance film, the resulting imagery registers an invisible spectrum of infrared light, and renders the jungle warzone in disorienting psychedelic hues. At the project’s heart are the points of failure of documentary photography, and its inability to adequately communicate this complex and horrific cycle of violence.

This body of work is mind blowing. It is arguably one of the most unique and memorable exhibitions I have ever seen that just keeps on giving every time I look at the work. It is just too full of beauty and ugliness to comprehend in one viewing, one sitting, one moment – it needs time, which is something war can so easily take from you without warning. The piece just brings so many emotions to the surface yet challenges them and makes you question your own response to it – is it acceptable to find such exquisiteness in such a tragedy? (Shakespeare may have argued yes!) Even so, you cannot deny the complete splendour and magnificence of the images, especially if you are lucky enough to see them exhibited. Aside from the visual appeal of the photos, the messages behind them are also most appealing, Mosse says “ I feel that the real is only effectively communicated through shocks to the imagination, precipitated by the Sublime” he is bringing us a new way to regard the barbarity of war and how it is (and has been) reported to us over the years.

Listening to him speak about his work only amplifies the authenticity and courageous attitude this pink world projects into our own lives and challenges how we perceive war and the realities of such. By displaying the footage on separate screens he is forcing the viewer to edit what they choose to see, thus determining their own reality of the world portrayed to them. German writer Christy Lange says of The Enclave “War is not black and white, but abstract and complex… The stylistic range of portrayals in Mosse’s work is what art allows for- a representation less tethered to the ‘reality’ of war, and as untethered as one might find the experience of witnessing it.” Lange, C. (2014). At the Edge of The Invisible. In: Eicker, E Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2014. London: The Photographer’s Gallery. p84.

In terms of my own work this has encouraged me to experiment with how colour adapts a persons perception of reality, particularly within landscape, and how going against the rules/medium of documentary photography changes and challenges peoples understanding of what they’ve felt they’ve always known and stood by as the truth. In the interview below Mosse is explaining his issues with documentary photography and elucidates the “dumbness” of the medium, “you need to get your subject there in front of the camera lens and if you can’t do that then you can’t take the picture”, this reminds me of Simon Norfolk’s The Hebrides for he too is depicting a document of something you cannot see. Both photographers are photographing a reality within the make up of the land around them, without always physically showing the real of it. Mosse goes on to say “If you can seduce the viewer and you can make them feel aesthetic pleasure, regarding a landscape in which human rights violations happen all the time, then you can put them into a very problematic place for themselves- they feel ethically compromised”. Can audiences decipher what they see at face value to be a beautiful scene from the historic events of the land, blood watering the sublime vegetation. Without being given further information, the audience are duped into thinking such a scene is a haven of bliss. It takes information and education to understand a complete story and Mosse gives you just that – yet contrasts the harsh truth with beautiful images, confusing in the context of war. Documentary photography gives you the ability to mesmerise and enchant your viewer without them understanding the image they are seeing, then upon explanation of the piece you can shock and revolt them, leaving them confused about their own reaction to the images they are seeing.

This mix of emotions and use of colour interests me and is an avenue I should like to explore for my landscape module.

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The Place of No Return

Photography links together my memory. It does not limit my memory to the visual .

The melancholic feeling of the undeniable becomes visible.

The soul of photography is the encounter.

If yesterday I photographed silences, today I photograph my own voice.

This trip woven over a memory of lights, flashes, optical illusions, seeks a revelation.

A bridge.

A bridge over the abyss.

A feeling’s visible scenery in step with my emotions.

Today I have the awareness that a way of looking is a way of being.

Photography is a powerful medium.

It leads us to the other side of life.

And there, trapped in its world of lights and shadows,

being only presence, we also live.

Immutable. No sorrows. Our sins redeemed.

Finally tamed… frozen.

On the other side of life, from where there is no return. Shot 2014-09-29 at 20.44.24

“Anything that we look at through the camera generates a revelation. The human eye opens the frame, and the camera fragments the view. It turns it into limited space, fragmented space. And in this fragmented space- the lines, the light the composition- creates a sequence of narrative and expressive elements. For me the photographic exercise starts when I look through the camera, not before.

This incredibly intense exhibition was fantastic- like nothing I have seen before. It’s honesty and acute detail to the unflattering truth was a refreshing yet shocking stab of reality. It shows self portraits taken by Garcia-Alix starting from the late 1970’s until present day (2013); and he hides nothing from us. His images are seeping with emotion, be it from the subjects themselves or from the reaction of the viewer, their harsh light on his reality startles yet entices us, making us question how we have led our own realities. For most (I am assuming) Garcia-Alix’s life is far from what we ourselves have experienced throughout our years, the documentary seems more of a fiction story than a real beings factual life. From the gradual disappearance of his friends faces through the years to his own radically changing physicality’s and the variations of emotional expressions staring back at the camera, Garcia-Alix portrays the life of a man taking each day at a time, never knowing if the next shall be his last.

He describes the dark skyline above his head as “a dense spiders web silhouetted against the sky”, “wires, posts, thousands of black tree branches and their shadows” all trapping him below the possibility of the infinity and unknown above him- trapping him in his own reality. “Their broken shadows. A vibration in my soul. In this light that dazzles me, my yesterday is written. Memories and all that has been forgotten, trapped in this dense spiders web.” Metaphorically he is encompassed by the spiders web as it binds him to the truth of his past and the person he shall be tomorrow. With no promise of tomorrow he is living under this web as it catches his dreams in a spiral of drug fuelled hallucination, allowing them to fly high, so close, yet so far from the real of the present. He is trapped by his own realities whilst he documents the day to day living of himself and those around him. Is this as truer representation of authenticity as you can get or a mirage of a virtual reality, an optical illusion of “the real” Alberto García-Alix?

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This exhibition brought to light many photographers I was previously unaware of with bodies of work I had no clue existed; some ideas so simple, yet so effective (scanning in day to day objects, yard sales, ageing portraiture, daily life to life-size dolls). This exhibition was a great one to visit first to get me thinking about “the real” and what really is real to us- the life consumers. The stand out piece to me was Hong Hao’s My Things series, printed at an enormous size it allowed you to truly see the finer details in her day to day realities- scanned in objects over the last 12 years of her life all photoshopped together to create one image used to represent her life and what is real to her. Another stand out piece was Rineke Dijkstra’s series Almerisa, a series of portraits over the years of one particular subject. It is almost a visual history lesson on what was fashionable throughout the years and what realities of the time were so important then yet forgotten ten years later. How real are our perceived reals? What we the consumers deem make up our day to day lives, that seem so crucial to our happiness at those times, become things of the past very quickly as we move on to the next generation of realities. Are our present real’s ever real if they all become a reality of the past? As consumers we are forever drip fed what the reals of our day to day life should consist of, be it a coffee in the morning or falling in love and getting married- our representations of the real that we deem as reality, are simply fixations of someone else’s realities before us. We consume our real life whilst swearing by its on uniqueness.


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