The first Exhibition in the newly refurbished Hayward Gallery and such an appropriate one for those very large prints in the majestic concrete space which I think I only appreciated when I saw the staircase.
This video, presented by Ralph Rugoff, provides an excellent summary of Gursky’s oeuvre – the size, the detail which remains hidden until you step up to have a closer look to scan them, after needing to stand back to take it all in. As Rugoff says, Gursky, is interested in how people collectively construct their behaviour and “… gives us an entire world in one picture so you can understand how the system works”, playing with all the different traditions of photography and painting.
His early photographs were smaller in scale but switching to digital enabled him to produce large format images and manipulate them in post-production, which then led to him documenting the key themes that overarch our lives today, producing them in limited editions small in number and, of course, making a lot of money.
An article in the NY Times in January this year had a heading “Andreas Gursky Is Taking Photos of Things That Do Not Exist – digitally created scenes and spaces. For instance, one where German Chancellor Angela Merkel and there three predecessors sit in an orderly row, as if pictured through a window, and are gazing at an abstract painting on the wall in front of them. I was fascinated how the viewers in the Gallery itself somehow became part of a greater picture in front of that image and others.
I have to admit that there was such a variety of approach that although I initially felt sceptical about his work I quickly became drawn- in to the detail in some of the images, scanning to look for repetitions as with 99Cent 1999 – a stitching together of multiple images taken in a store in Los Angeles.
I also appreciated the abstract qualities of some of them – layers of sky, sea, rubbish-laden grass verge and Spanish road in El Ejido , 2017
and also the way in which photographs were taken aerially from a helicopter of Bahrain International Circuit, digitally manipulated and then composed into an abstracted crop of elements of the circuit.
I was minded of the work of Jeff Wall in some respects in terms of the layers, composites and scale so was interested to read an interview of Gursky by Wall (included on Gursky’s website). Wall asks Gursky about his memories of childhood; his father’s photographic studio and business and then Gursky talks of his time at art school, referring to Bernd Becher’s stringent use of composition and stylistic features – well-balanced, shadowless light, centred perspective, distance and crop. The influence is there to be seen.