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September 06, 2004

Postindustrial Architecture: Portraits of Emptiness


* From my many years in corporate life, I've developed an odd fascination with empty and anonymously configured work and living spaces, and how they seem to replicate themselves so effortlessly nationwide, and increasingly, globally. Many photographers have been documenting this continually expanding post-industrial architecture of anonymity, but Daniel Mirer is one of the few that really seems to have the pulse of this phenomenon, perhaps because he had experience building many of these spaces while working his way through college. He writes particularly thoughtfully about what he is trying to do in photographing what would look to many people like...well, a lot of nothing.

From his essay, "Wishing Rooms -- Photographing Rooms":

"These architectural portraits, in their seeming matter-of-factness, demonstrate the primary function of the still photographic image: to record. What they record are both the spatial and the temporal dimensions of postindustrial experience. Spatially, by photographing these interiors from a direct, frontal point of v iew, at sufficient distance to include the entire space, I seek to reveal their flat, banal, melancholic, uncanny aspect, in which the individual vanishes in the glare of fluorescent light. And temporally, they evoke an often haunting sense of the ephemeral. They are cheaply built spaces for people constantly passing through, designed to be easily reconfigured to the shifting will of new tenants, product lines, or markets. There is the sense that nothing is permanent here.

My interest in these spaces derives not only from my desire to understand this world, but also from my feeling of intense separation from it. I come from a working-class background, and when I was working my way through college, I earned money by doing construction and demolition work, building and tearing down the very types of corporate spaces that I now photograph, spaces that I never had access to after the project was complete, unless I was brought in for reconstruction, when one tenant vacated and another moved in. I became fascinated by the ephemerality of these spaces and by the people who worked in them."

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Daniel Mirer image, from Columbus, OH portfolio

The Priska Juschka gallery has an intelligent selection of Mirer's work online, but Mirer's website has the largest selection of his images organized geographically -- Finland and New York are good places to start, and the power plants/malls/trailer homes section provides some equally compelling slices of emptiness in all their horror. There's a sense of distance, and flatness of perspective and lighting that Mirer employs that makes these images so weirdly unsettling...I was surprised that I lingered over these images as much as I did, though clicking away in boredom may be an equally valid reaction (and would prove Mirer's point just as well).

This is not the "cold" aesthetics and distance that people typically associate with a more European perspective (such as the Bechers) -- in fact, Mirer demonstrates a subtle sense of dynamism in using diagonals and isn't above a sense of humor with a number of his compositions, such as the one below (which I love). But Mirer seems most effective to me when he isn't being overly nostalgic, romantic, or jokey...when he observes (which he does very well) and then provides the framing that lets the emptiness and facelessness of the spaces that fascinate him speak for themselves without much fanfare.

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"Smoking Area", Mirer image, from Finland portfolio

(The image quality on Mirer's website seems a bit erratic to me, and there are a few better quality images to be found here, along with a little more written about him).


* Mark Peter Drolet is a Toronto-based photographer who also expresses a desire for documenting the postindustrial, and photographs empty spaces and plenty of roadside Americana (portfolios V and VI on his site), but with the more typically dry humor and totemic approach that these subjects receive from many commercial and fine art photographers. Drolet is a lot less glib than many photographers, however, and he's particularly good with color, light and the square image, and finding a unique angle on his many subjects. He also does a lot of portraits (1, 2, 3, 4 portfolios worth) -- typically with subjects in side profile or looking away or down -- and he has an excellent sense of style.

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Mark Drolet image

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Comments

i like the the term Post_Industrial_Photography. holla @ me

Posted by: malone at Oct 13, 2009 9:38:59 PM