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ST EREOSC OPE MAG A Z INE : VOLUMES, 2014

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PE T ER WILL IS

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CHARLES PIA Z Z I S MY T H

Although principally known for his career in astronomy and widely reputed for his studies of pyramids, Charles Piazzi Smyth’s Teneriffe, An Astronomer’s Experiment was the first book to be illustrated by stereographs. The following images are from that book, and were produced using an early photographic process known as the wet collodion process, which, by the 1860s, had nearly come to replace the daguerreotype. Smyth published the volume in 1858, upon his return from an expedition to the Canary Islands, where he had gone to assess its potential for an astronomical observatory. How to view this section: hold the page between the stereographs so that the two images are visible on either side. Now focus your eyes towards the edge of the middle page so that neither image is comletely in focus. You should now be able to see the volumetric image.

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ST EREOSC OPE MAG A Z INE : VOLUMES, 2014

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CHARLES PIA Z Z I S MY T H

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CHARLES PIA Z Z I S MY T H

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CHARLES PIA Z Z I S MY T H

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CHARLES PIA Z Z I S MY T H

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LIVIA MARINESCU - ANDRE A S GURSK Y

Livia Marinescu Andreas Gursky: the World Kept at Distance.

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At first sight, Andreas Gursky’s photographs give the impression of a deep cut into the tissue of a different reality, offering a slice of something unseen before. The large-scale photographs offer vistas into crowd scenes and interiors, which have become common places for the imagery of the phenomenon of globalisation, to which we have become accustomed as spectators. His works reveal the burdening anonymity of the individual in places such as fast-paced factories, car shows, retail stores or the stock exchange. The distanced, elevated viewpoint of the photographs belittles the human presence in these landscapes, yet a sharp focus renders everything clear: an abundance of detail and a sense of disturbing precision akin to the spaces or the systems of production depicted. Gursky’s practice is often understood as engaging in a critique of the capitalist society or, more generally, of the globalised world. Others identify in his work a radical ecology that deals with the relationship between humans and their environment on a cosmic scale. While the complexity and variety of themes in Gursky’s work might suggest a verity of interpretations, their power ultimately resides in their sense of escaping categorization. Work seems to reveal that various photographs or photographic series lend themselves to one or some of these interpretations, yet ultimately their power resides in a sense of escaping categorisation Trained under Hilla and Bernd Becher, in the Düsseldorf Academy, between 1981 and 1987, Gursky consistently deployed the method of his teachers, who were known for their documentary style and frontal representations of industrial architecture/constructions. Gursky initially followed the single-subject method but further departed from this by for an alternative way of seeing: a radical distancing that abolishes any possibility of creating a connection between the subject and the viewer. Gursky employs several formal strategies, as he either presents a subject in a full frontal view, or from a very high viewpoint. This ‘severing’, as Michael Fried names it, of the viewer from the plane of the photograph, is not only formal, but also ontological. As Guskry summarises his aesthetic: “I stay at a distance, like a person coming from a different world”. Distance becomes a method of control and a rethinking of the limits of the visual in connection to possession and imagination. The artist captures close-up views of

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highly textured surfaces (carpets, illuminated ceilings), which when enlarged create the illusion of cosmic views. It thus becomes a subtle play on the quasi-mystical power of abstraction, but also on the ongoing question of truth in photography, as the photograph seems to reveal everything while simultaneously obscuring through its defamiliarising scale. In a work such as Tokyo Stock Exchange (1990), the mass of traders are shown from a high point of view, engaged in their transactions and with each other, yet remaining detached from the viewer. This photograph marks a movement in Gursky’s work in the 1990s towards a filling of the pictorial space from edge to edge, yet suggesting that the moment contained within the frames continues in the same way outside these. What seems to emerge from this type of work is not a sense of locality or of a group of people at a given moment, but rather a disclosure act of the dynamics of specific global institutions. The minimalist chromatics of the photograph creates the impression of a swirling movement, of pulsating patches of colour. This theme is revisited in Hong Kong Stock Exchange or in the portrayal of mass parties (May Day IV, 2000). Overall these photographs have a sense of heaviness, probably rooted in their horror vacui character, as the frame is filled entirely, forbidding any entry point into the pictorial space. Gursky’s conceptual strategy has been compared to that of the Minimalists of the 1960s, but also to Gerhard Richter, especially in its dialogue with painting. However, he also uses advertising techniques by appealing to digital manipulation, fusing together images taken from different angles to create a totalising representation of a scene. Parallels have also been drawn between Gursky’s work and drip paintings: the shape and colours of the subject, portrayed from a distance, create rhythmic patterns that seem to move beyond the figurative plane. In the photograph of Vietnamese women weaving baskets (Nha Trang, 2004), a similar effect of uniformity and repetition emerges through the elevated point of view, creating an impression of abstract forms. The flattening effect achieved might read as a commentary on the anonymity and dehumanising effect of certain work conditions. The work retains the same overall sharpness, with a high depth of field and apparently without a human vantage point. It thus

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exposes the subjects to the viewer’s gaze in a type of panoptical vision. It seems that Gursky’s work is, on one level, an interrogation of capitalist society and the fetishisation of commodities. This is more obviously explored in photographs such as Prada I (1996) and Prada II (1997) which offer a full frontal view of high fashion shop shelves, with a sleek, minimal, yet enticing design. Neatly arranged on the backlit shelves, the shoes or sport trainers (in Untitled V, 1997), seem to suggest, through their repetitive pattern, a certain perversion of desire for objects, which reiterates itself without variability. In Prada II (1997), the products are not even present in the picture. The empty shelves do not suggest any sense of depth, of a container; they appear flat, similar to neon surfaces. The objects have not only lost their volume, they seem to have disappeared completely. However, the empty shelves trigger a mental representation of the products, a technique of association akin to advertising strategies. In Gursky’s world, both humans and objects are subordinated to an extreme flattening effect which recalls Guy Debord’s Marxist critique of the ‘society of the spectacle’ (1967), as that in which reality has been reduced to an image, a representation. What seems to distinguish these photographs from those of the people engaged in work or leisure activities is a sense that in the latter, despite the uniformity of the crowd, the humans are captured within the singularity of their postures and movements. This is, potentially, an indirect form of humanism: within the abstract whole, the individuality of each subject is to a small extent retained. However, these two visions, of the representation of people, and of the geometrical alignment of objects, come together in the more recent works of North Korea (Pyongyang series, 2007), in which Gursky represents the intrinsically pictorial character of mass gymnastics. The human figure is objectified through a process of higher integration, becoming part of an overarching unity. The grid-like structure of North Korean mass games in Gursky’s world is met with the rigorous geometry of the Prada shelves, in what seems to be an exploration of the totality of vision, in its dimensions of ‘seeing’ and ‘being seen’. The pictures formed through the mass gymnastics are kept at a distance in order to be seen completely, and it is through this distance that the human subjects are possessed, in a

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manner that reflects the control of totalitarian regime. The products in the Prada shop subvert the subject-object relationship as they reverse the direction of possession. The stark horizontality of the shelves is yet another deceitful sign of their accessibility: by remaining at a distance, the objects possess the viewer’s imagination (positioned as the potential consumer) through a sense of forbidden closeness, or through their sheer absence. Thus the photograph makes visible the workings of a desire predicated on this very absence, on this immaterial content, as the brand image is supposedly relocated already in the viewer’s mind. In Debord’s reading, ‘the spectacle’ is “capital” accumulated to the point that it becomes images.’ The world portrayed by Gursky is deemed inaccessible to the viewer: despite being offered up for surveillance, it retains an impenetrable wholeness which forbids participation. It seems, however, that the viewer identifies with the image as a unified whole, not necessarily with the particularity of its subject matter, so that the overall construction is experienced in a visceral manner. When this is achieved, it seem as though the viewer both observes and is observed by the photograph.

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GEORGE LI T T LE

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GEORGE LI T T LE

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GEORGE LI T T LE

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