I visited the Andreas Gursky exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, a little unsure of what to expect I had seen single images of his work (Montparnasse) as part of other exhibitions, but never a solo display of his work.
I found it fascinating how, in many images, he adopts such a distant viewpoint that the human becomes almost inconsequential. It was interesting to read from the gallery notes how some of the images are constructed. What appears to be a single image may have been taken from multiple viewpoints and then combined so that the final product appears flat and completely in focus across the whole plan with no evidence of receding perspective.
The guidebook for the exhibition explained Gursky’s views on photography and painting. “Across many different works Gursky has borrowed from and made use of compositional structures common to post-war painting, not least the ‘all-over’ decentred composition that the American abstract painter Jackson ollack, and others, pioneered in the late 1940’s and 1950’s”.
“To Gursky – an artist interested in a ‘painterly’, rather than an ‘objective’ view of the world – the main distinction between photography and painting is the fact that ‘the viewer … reads photography as what is presented, whereas painting is about the presentation as such’. Photography, for Gursky, is not just a way to document the world, but rather a way to represent his ideas about it”.
I did find one of Gursky’s images resonated with Russian Constructivism/suprematism paintings.
Andreas Gursky, Beijing 2010
The exhibition has has good reviews, Sean O’Hagan in The Guardian writes “he employs digital technology to both challenge the notion of the photograph and do what great photography has always done, show us the world we live in anew”.
I found myself looking at how Gursky had presented some of the images and how I might have approached the same subject. I first thought of this when I saw his image Cheops 2005
I too have been to Egypt and seen the pyramids (although long before 2005) where I took this image in a much more traditional way.
However I also considered how some of Gursky’s images may have influenced my own picture taking. My framing and composition of this image taken on the North Norfok coast
was influenced by having seen Untitled I
Finally, reading some of the reviews of the exhibition led back to the subject of ‘the sublime’. An article in The Economist (2018) concludes “Critics have described Mr Gursky as an arbiter of something they call the “contemporary sublime”. In the late 18th and 19th century, the Romantic conception of the sublime took nature as it object, capable of inspiring astonishment and awe—“that state of the soul in which all its motions are suspended”, according to Edmund Burke. The contemporary sublime instead takes technology and the capitalist-industrial system as its focus. Mr Gursky treats things like stock-exchanges, skyscrapers, a Formula One racing track, the interior of a Prada shop and an Amazon warehouse with the same reverence as a sweeping vista from a mountaintop. “He makes crowds of people look tiny and relentless…like a minute, leisurely colony of ants,” says Alix Ohlin, a writer.
O’Hagan, S. (2018) Andreas Gursky review – godlike visions from the great chronicler of our age. At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/jan/20/andreas-gursky-hayward-gallery-godlike-vision (Accessed on 25 February 2018)
The Economist (2018) Andreas Gursky, master of the contemporary sublime. At: https://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2018/01/crowds-and-concrete (Accessed on 25 February 2018)