The following notes come from watching the online video “Gursky Work” presented by Ben Lewis and originally shown in channel 4 in September 2002 (1)
On photography and objectivity:
Lewis: “What do the Dusseldorf photographers have in common?”
Gursky: [untranslated speech]…”above all, they have a very neutral approach to their subjects. Their pictures are always totally objective”
Lewis: “And why is it art to be objective?”
Gursky: “Precisely because it is not art. That is the whole point” (2)
Gursky seems to struggle with the idea of straight, neutral like photography (which he calls “objective”) being considered art. This is something that he seems to repeat, somehow, in a later interview with Jan Schmidt-Garre (3) (see my notes on this here). I do not necessarily agree with his point of view, because a lot of artistic decisions are taken in order to come up with these straight, seemingly objective photographs. When making the comment in the video, I have the impression that Gusrky is somewhat distancing himself from the “Dusseldorf School”, something that is also subtlety implied throughout in his interview with Jan Schmidt-Garre (3), but in any case, it is clear by his recent output that Gursky has now moved well away from that objectivity that he mentions and instead produces images that show a “reality” that is a mixture of the original subject and his imagination. The danger – if one could say that, for his pictures are not to be enjoyed or exhibited as photojournalism – is that by embedding the analogic image of a subject with his own vision, Gursky is riding the latter in the public’s acceptability of the former as an objective depiction of what something truly is (as exposed by Roland Barthes in his essay The Photographic Message. See my notes here). Perhaps it is to neutralise this effect that Gursky often retorts to hyperbolic compositions (4), to give clues that something is not quite right in his images.
On the Rhine (not clear if he was referring to either Rhine I or Rhine II): “To take a picture like that, a lot has to be right…the light, the direction of the wind, an even the water level of the river”…”The Rhine is my favourite picture because it says a lot using the most minimal means. For me it is an allegorical picture about the meaning of life, and the way things are and about the fullness and the emptiness” (5). Just like I mentioned in my notes for the Jan Schmidt-Garre interview (link to my notes)(3) or his movie about the making of Hamm, Bergwerk Ost (link to the image (6)) – my notes here (7) – although Gursky’s images may look timeless and repeatable (something that he asserts, as discussed here), they are still taken at a precise moment when the reality best fits what Gursky has in his mind, something that Ben Lewis points out in this video (see for example, when he mentions that “Gursky is not simply waiting for any odd fleeting moment of the banal. He wants a moment when banality means something” (8)). Looking at the way Gursky works, though, his “decisive moment” of photography is likely to be fragmented into several, a different one for each element of the final image, which is then combined digitally (into what he calls “aggregate state”, as discussed here) . It is this fragmentation that leads to the timelessness feeling in some of Gursky’s photographs.
(1) Ben Lewis. Gursky World. [Online Video]. 27 September 2002. Available from: https://vimeo.com/17692722. [Accessed: 15 April 2018].
(2) Idem, minute 16:22
(3) Andreas Gursky in “Andreas Gursky in conversation with Jan Schmidt-Garre”, a video interview part of the DVD: Andreas Gursky: Long Shot Close Up, 2011. [DVD] Jan Schmidt-Garre, Germany: Arthous Musik.
(4) See for instance Times Square, New York, 1997. MoMA. 2018. Andreas Gursky. Times Square, New York. 1997 | MoMA. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/55649. [Accessed 15 April 2018]. Or Bahrain I. Tate. 2018. ‘Bahrain I’, Andreas Gursky, 2005 | Tate . [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/gursky-bahrain-i-p79322. [Accessed 15 April 2018].
(5) Ben Lewis. Op cit. Minute 22:13
(6) Andreas Gursky | works – Hamm, Bergwerk Ost. 2018. Andreas Gursky | works – Hamm, Bergwerk Ost. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.andreasgursky.com/en/works/2008/hamm-bergwerk-ost. [Accessed 15 April 2018].
(7) Andreas Gursky: Long Shot Close Up, 2011. [DVD] Jan Schmidt-Garre, Germany: Arthous Musik.
(8) Ben Lewis. Op cit. Minute 22:36