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