Andreas Gursky: Fictions On the Basis of Facts
Gursky collects his shots on travels round the whole world. Whether he photographs hundreds of basket weavers working in a gigantic hall in Vietnam, or captures images of big concerts with pop stars like Madonna, he succeeds at mass depictions such as have not hitherto been seen. Work, sport, politics – he shrinks from no subject. In North Korea he photographed staged mass demonstrations that made people part of propaganda actions. In New York and Berlin he is absorbed by the uniformity of anonymous masses of people at mass concerts or the Love Parade. Again and again he manages to create metaphors of globalisations. And last but not least, Gursky’s photographs are unusually successful, both with the public and on the art market. His pictures attract attention.
A matter of point of view
|Detail of 'Nha Trang'
The overwhelming impression made by his pictures is bound up with their jarring depth of focus. Regardless how big the section of the world that he shows us, his pictures are sharp down to the last detail. The optics of the human eye is incapable of this pervasive sharpness of vision. Using cameras with high-resolution lenses creates a superhuman clarity.
Large-scale structures and richness of detail
The large structures employed by Gursky give his photographs their footing. The details give them their life. A picture like Montparnasse, which shows a gigantic stretch of an apartment complex in the centre of Paris, was assembled from several photographs in such a way that it is possible to see a side view of the building which in reality cannot be seen, since the viewer could never have the required distance when actually standing before it. The photograph shows the building more clearly than we could see it. In its windows innumerable scenes are taking place that break and enliven the monotony of the uniform facades in an almost incredible way.
Metaphors of our time, condensed imagesGursky’s pictures may be taken as aesthetic compositions and as sociological studies. They are never merely beautiful: they are above all intelligent. They are metaphors of our times. Astonishing about Gursky’s gigantic photographs, which absolutely sum up the idea of enlargement, is that they always draw the viewer into them with a kind of suction. The viewer wants to see everything that can be seen there. The narrative detail is concealed in the structures. Survey of the whole and precision in details are decisive for Gursky’s style.
Gursky’s photographs are not documentary, although they work with reality, from which they live and which they condense. But they are also not subjective, as we know the subjective point of view from the history of photography. Gursky constructs pictures that are fictions on the basis of facts. Nevertheless, it is just the photographs of the 1990s, in which he increasingly works with digital post-processing, that unsettle the viewer. The viewer senses that there is something strange here, that here the montage has been so rigged as to enhance the effect of the picture.
He attempts to find out the picture’s tricks. He wants to see in the picture how it could have been brought about, how it has been manipulated. The question of the ‘how’ forces itself on the viewer in many of Gursky’s photographs. Clear is only that they are artificial pictures, that Gursky has begun to suspend the boundary that has hitherto separated photography and painting. Photography tends in his work to become digital painting. That he has repeatedly photographed the works of modern artists only hints at the pictorial sources from which he borrows for his kind of photography.
Reality is a construction
|Detail of '99 Cent II'
|Andreas Gursky, Thomas Weski: Andreas Gursky; Snoeck Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, Cologne, 2007, ISBN 978-3-936859-50-8|
former member of the Goethe-Institut's editorial team
Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner
Copyright: Goethe-Institut, Online-Redaktion
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