Hayward Gallery at Southbank Centre reopened in Jan 2018 with the first major UK retrospective exhibition of Andreas Gursky. The exhibition maps out the evolution of the acclaimed photographer over a period of more than four decades, encompassing works from his early years to new pictures made in 2017.
The concept of collective existence always remains in the centre of Gursky’s work, either when he’s photographing vast landscapes, teeming crowds or massive made-made structures. If we were to describe his work on its whole with three words, it would be impressive, precise, and ambiguous. Even though his photographs chronicle issues like capitalism, poverty or the repercussions of human activity on nature, instead of expressing explicit political commentary, he manages to ‘keep awareness of the problems without losing sight of their beauty and complexity’.
Another reason that makes his work feel so ambivalent is the fact it’s not usually clear what the photo is focusing on; this is left upon the viewer’s interpretation. Gursky employs several techniques to reinforce this impression: the frequent use of a distant viewpoint together with a overwhelming quantity of detail and a uniform focus on all of it simultaneously, extreme close-ups that de-familiarise the object(s) in question as well as collages of images taken from different vantage points that are presented as a single one. It seems that there is no red thread leading the way, no single narrative.
His images are an ongoing conversation; an exploration of human interaction with nature and the way architecture frames the way we experience the world around us. When he captures architecture – both in large and small scale, he favours clear structures as much as the non-heroic elements of public buildings, sympathetically showcasing how tiny humans appear next to the grandness of their creations.
Gursky began working with digital post-production in 1992, using computers to edit and combine shots. The results of this process add to the sense of ambiguity running through the entire body of his work, being both a reflection of his personal concerns and challenge to the viewer: what is real and what is fictional? To use his own words, ‘reality can only be shown by constructing it’.
Both uncanny and mesmerising, the Andreas Gursky exhibition is worth all the hype surrounding it. You do not need to be well versed in photography to understand his creative genius, but do make sure to book tickets in advance – they sell fast. From a gallery-goers viewpoint, I’m glad that you need to book a specific slot, meaning that at any time during the day there is only a limited number of people in the gallery allowing everyone to roam around with more freedom and ease.
Andread Gursky at Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, until 22 April 2018. All images via The Guardian.
Impressed (as always),