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August 23, 2004

Life and Photography on the Industrial Periphery, and More Dusseldorf Disciples


The summer tends to be slow when it comes to releases of photography books and magazines, but it's been a good month with the latest issues of two of the best online photo magazines, ak47.tv and blueeyes (mentioned in the last post). The new issue of ak47.tv features, among its highlights, The Emerging Self, colorful and sensitive portraits of young teens and children growing into teenhood from Michelle Sank, Misty Keasler's quietly positive series (given the subject matter) Orphanage, and Xavier Ribas' Perfect Distraction, an exploration of life and leisure on the periphery of urban industrial spaces.

Ribas provides a very eloquent rationale for his examination of such anonymous and seeingly dystopian spaces:

"...when I’ve visited such cathedrals of organized leisure as Isla Fantasia, Port Aventura or Montigalà, I’ve found more tranquillity in the adjacent patches of wasteland converted into improvised sunday dining rooms, than in the park interior itself. It strikes me that behind this improvisation there lies more design than accident. It is possible, then, that the interest in these spaces is due more to people coming to see the periphery as a place of freedom. Or put another way, that freedom can only arise in a residual space, and therefore presents us with an image of desolation."

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"Sunday Dining Room" Xavier Ribas image

* Further examinations of life on the periphery, courtesy of Swiss photographer Loan Nguyen, whose lyrically mimimalist series "Mobile" (more images from series here, slightly larger images here) follows a lone woman through various desolate environments, with other symbols and images cryptically sprinkled in. Her commercial fashion work mines many of the same themes and moods.

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Loan Nguyen image, from "Mobile" series

* Of course, when it comes to industrial landscapes, Bernd and Hilla Becher and the Dusseldorf school of photographers who followed in their wake remain the most rigorous and oddly poetic of the various documenters of such spaces and architecture. The Esther Woerdehoff gallery in Paris has an exhibition running currently devoted to two of these disciples, Gotz Diergarten and Mattias Koch. Both photographers' huge large format C-prints suffer heavily on the web (especially Diergarten's), but still convey a sense of deadpan grandeur. I'd love to see the prints, especially given the description of Koch's large format setup:

"Matthias Koch was a student of Bernd Becher at the Art academy of Düsseldorf. He takes pictures with a fireman's truck for which he had to pass a special driver's licence. The camera, format 8 x 10'', is placed at the top of the fireman's ladder, while the photographer, sitting in the driver's seat, takes the pictures with a teleguided apparatus. He hence creates a sensational connection between the architecture and the environment of the landing beaches in Normandy".

This description provides some insight into why I find some of Koch's industrial tableaux compelling despite their matter of factness -- the slight aerial view provides a different view of details and a more interestingly detached perspective than a ground level photograph (which would provide a plainer, more common view of the details). At the same time, the perspective isn't so high that these would take on the appearance of surveillance photographs (though I can only speculate regarding the effectiveness of the actual C-prints since I'm judging from web images).

More images from Koch here (still smallish, but better looking), and a wider variety from Diergarten here.

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Matthias Koch image

* For those who find the Becher school of typologizing the photographic equivalent of watching paint dry, you'll know to stay away from the above photographers...but if you can't get enough, then Switzerland-based Joel Tettamanti gives you more...nice selection here, and much, much, much more on his website. Some of his night images look really good, but I find the typologizing of squash courts to be a bit much (even though it may simply be a sly joke, as the only thing distinguishing the courts is their corporate logos).

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