The following is a summary of my observations after looking at an interview of Andreas Gursky by Jan Schmidt-Garrre (1)
On photography and art: “I’m a photographer and I confess to that, but there’s a big difference to taking pictures at an event. On the other hand, I see myself as an artist because some of the materials I user have nothing to do with photography” (2). I found it a bit disappointing that he makes this distinction. I believe one should be capable of being an artist and just use photography as a medium. I agree with his implication that there are differences between just producing photographs, perhaps as a record or as snapshots and to use photography as the final output of an artistic process, but clearly the distinction, if there is any, between an artist and a photographer (and I am looking at Keith Arnatt when I say this) is the thought process that goes into every piece produced, not just the fact that we may use different media.
On his education / training: “It was also the case at the academy, even though it was the same for others we did less with photography and more with people from other classes…I think that everything that happened there and the effect it had on me make up my identity it’s why I’m open to different influences and why I rely on them” (3) Here Gursky makes an important point about looking for other things, to be open to other influences, and not just focus on photography. To broaden one’s horizons is important in order to activate the creative process because it enable us to be more attuned to what is going on around us, and be inspired by what we read, listen to and feel, and not just by what we see.
On following instincts / going against the grain: [on working serially like the Bechers, who were his mentors during his studies at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf] “…I guess I followed those rules for two, maybe two-and-a-half years then I saw that it would lead me to a dead-end in the long run. That’s when I did my first landscapes in medium format, which Bernd [Becher] rejected. He thought the subject was interesting. However, when I showed him the pictures, he said, “They are nice, but not really in focus. If you’d done them with the plate camera, they would’ve been better.” But at that time I noticed that the plate camera made you very immobile. You had to decide where to set up the camera. Then I thought about spontaneous access to subjects. Being able to just stop when you’re in the car and produce a picture within seconds was a better guarantee of success . It also became clear to me that I had to throw these strict instructions from the teacher overboard” (4). This is an important point in Gursky’s career, when he decides to break with what he was thought and follow his instinct into doing something that is different and gives different results. This does not mean that we instantly reject all we have learnt formally, but that we are able to mix that with our own experiences to make the work our own unique output. Gursky himself returned to formal work with plate cameras in subsequent occasions, but since the early 90s he has been combining this with medium format, including digital, and his images are the product of computer-generated combinations and manipulations. In a way, he has found his own process , which includes remnants of what he learnt at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, by following his own path, and his own instincts.
On Paris, Montparnasse: (about creating this image by combining pictures from two different points of view) “You show the structure but you show it in a way that the human eye can’t see. You can see someone walking by the building. With the addition of the prints you reach the same result. For example, if you as a writer were to walk by the building, you could describe the entire building. Your focus is always where you can see into the building. Only afterwards do I think about the moment I was there. By using digital processing [to combine the pictures], I can balance it out again” (5) The end result of this image is not the same as walking along and describing the building, because a walker, as Gursky mentions, could only focus on what he sees and with this picture more than that is shown instantaneously (you can even see the interior of individual flats in some cases), but I understand his analogy was more from the perspective of a continuous survey, something that would require displacement in order to gather the visual evidence required. And this picture is essentially about that displacement, because the flat, straight on perspective could only be achieved in that way.
On manipulation and reality: “The crucial thing isn’t that it’s captured perfectly when the photo’s taken. It’s crucial that you can imagine that something like that can exist. This is still very important to me that you don’t later say that picture is hard to believe or that it has nothing to do with reality. So the last version… – Is important to me. Simply because in my opinion life tells the most interesting stories. The imagination doesn’t” (6) There are two things to observe about this, and one is that some of Gursky’s output before and after the time of this interview (around 2010) does contain images that are indeed hard to believe. The first one that pops in the mind is Bahrain I (link) (7), which depicts a contorting spaghetti of tarmac that is clearly improbable. The second assertion, that life tells more interesting stories than the imagination, is perhaps debatable but even himself seems to be questioning that now, as some of his most recent output seems to be wondering into surreal territory – see for instance Lehmbruck I (link)(8)(9). On further reflection, I believe Gursky’s comments, are more to do with the connection between the artwork and the viewer. It is true that in Gursky’s output it is hard to see the “seams” where images come together, and this is perhaps what is more important to him, that there is no textural evidence (as in digital artefacts) of the manipulation, rather than if the image is implausible or not. If there is no evidence of the manipulation there is always a chance that the viewer may interpret what he sees as “objective” and the viewer would find it easier to digest the connoted message when it is confused with the analogous direct representation of reality that the pure photographic image produces.
On the qualities of his current picture output: “I maintain, with regards to my own work, that my pictures depict an aggregate state of the world and can, in principle, be completely replicated at any time.” (10) This comment is perhaps relevant in the context of the way Gursky puts together his pictures, by combining pieces taken at different times and sometimes, at different locations (in Hamm, Bergwerk Ost (11), for instance, some of the people appearing at the bottom of this image were photographed at a different location with a different camera and were not miners. They were then digitally added to the final composite image (12)), but it is not strictly true that his photographs (or photographs in general) are in principle devoid of any timing considerations. In making one of his most famous images, Rhein II (13), which also happens to be an image which is static and stripped of action, Gursky mentions that the way the wind blew had an impact on how this picture looked like. There is both an element of timing and also of chance in many of his images, something that he himself acknowledges, as it is impossible to see what you are getting until you look at the negative or the digital image in detail after taking the image (14).
[Discussing a project he was working on at the time of the interview, likely to have been V&R (15)]: “Fashion shows are short, generally around seven or eight minutes. With a film, you can really show moving pictures well. Because I’m working with photos in two dimensions, I’m compositing different moments in one photograph.” (16). This is an interesting quality of Gursky’s photos, in which he “compresses” various images into one, resulting in a multiplication of elements to create an enhanced version of reality. The trick with Gursky’s treatment is that in some cases his “enhanced” images look plausible (but in others, no, as we have mentioned above). For instance, one could conclude that in V&R the image was taken at the end of the show, when all the models go out together for one final round on the catwalk. Another image which is like that is his F1 Boxenstopp I (17), which seems like a regular pit stop image at first but in reality is the result of a combination of images where Gursky has added a greater number of mechanics than what you normally get.
(1) 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.
(2) Idem, minute 2:00.
(3) Idem, minute 6:21.
(4) Idem, minute 9:47.
(5) Idem, minute 29:58.
(6) Idem, minute 31:04.
(7) 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].
(8) Andreas Gursky | works – Lehmbruck I. 2018. Andreas Gursky | works – Lehmbruck I. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.andreasgursky.com/en/works/2013/lehmbruck-1. [Accessed 15 April 2018].
(9) Later in “Andreas Gursky in conversation with Jan Schmidt-Garre”, Gursky gives a hint that this could happen when he talks about the next stage in his artistic development and mentions that “…I’ve only now reached a point where I could imagine myself really dating to take that last step and give myself over to complete artificiality or fantasy” (minute 36:12)
(10) Andreas Gursky in “Andreas Gursky in conversation with Jan Schmidt-Garre”, minute 38:17
(11) 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].
(12) The process of how Gursky put together this image is shown in the documentary Andreas Gursky: Long Shot Close Up, 2011. [DVD] Jan Schmidt-Garre, Germany: Arthous Musik.
(13) Tate. 2018. ‘The Rhine II’, Andreas Gursky, 1999 | Tate . [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/gursky-the-rhine-ii-p78372. [Accessed 15 April 2018].
(14) See his commentary on the manipulation on Rhein II (from minute 2:09) and also on seeing a person at the bottom of a draft image of Hamm Bergwerk Ost (minute 33:52), both of which can be seen in Andreas Gursky: Long Shot Close Up, 2011. [DVD] Jan Schmidt-Garre, Germany: Arthous Musik. In the interview Gursky also acknowledges that even the most static of images, like the Bernd and Hilla Becher’s, are actually hard to repeat in reality (minute 18:20)
(15) Andreas Gursky | works – V&R. 2018. Andreas Gursky | works – V&R. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.andreasgursky.com/en/works/2011/vr. [Accessed 15 April 2018].
(16) Andreas Gursky in “Andreas Gursky in conversation with Jan Schmidt-Garre”, minute 32:14
(17) Andreas Gursky | works – F1 Boxenstopp I. 2018. Andreas Gursky | works – F1 Boxenstopp I. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.andreasgursky.com/en/works/2007/f1-boxenstopp-1-4/f1-boxenstopp-1. [Accessed 15 April 2018].