Exhibition open until 11th January 2015
by James Chris Parker
The Barbican currently holds an inspiring and thought-provoking exhibition of some of the finest landscape photography representing architecture from the 1930s onwards. The exhibition is truly something special, and a pleasure to view.
Chronologically organised, the first thing you are guided to (apart from the bookstore on your left) is the suggested route of travel around the gallery, an extremely important note and one which this review takes. ??Starting with the likes of Bernice Abbot with the Tri- Borough Bridge: East 125th Approach 1937 image through to Walker Evans, the viewer gains a real sense of a photographer’s reflection on the development of cityscapes and the first skyscrapers of New York.
Certain levels begin to appear within the photograph of old and new buildings merging together, whilst the shapes of fresh steel alongside fading wooden buildings create tonal variation. Yet the most intriguing comments drawn from these images are the social issues of a growing metropolis and the association of buildings reflecting a person’s miniature scale within the world and ones financial position within a city.
[img_assist|nid=19818|title=Ed Ruscha, Dodgers Stadium, 1000 Elysian Park Ave, 1967 ©|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=220|height=212]
Ed Ruscha presents aerial views of the Dodgers Stadium and Gilmore Drive-in Theatre that flatten all perspectives of depth, and focus the viewer to the contours created by human development and existence. A lot can be learned from viewing the world from above, particularly looking at technological developments, transportation links and the expanse of humanity into the environment. Yet here Rushca’s images focus on humanities lust for entertainment, focussing not on the field of play or cinema screen itself but the network of greasy car parks and paths taken to and from.
Stephen Shores work was neatly summarised as ‘...highly detailed images of buildings and streetscapes in often unexceptional towns and cities, Shore intended to show people what they were not seeing.’ Perhaps the latter ‘not seeing’ should have instead read, ‘what people saw but not realised’ such as the steps into consumerism with overcrowding advertisements and unusual miniature churches set against backdrops of mountain peaks.
Anybody wishing to have a lesson in displaying, framing and finishing photography work should view Thomas Struth. I myself have something against framed images, where you unfortunately recognise your own reflection cast back at you should an image contain heavy blacks or darker tones. Yet these images obviously used a combination of non-reflective glass and photo paper to great effect.
I’m still waiting on a reply from Struths studio in Germany of exactly how it was achieved. This not to say that the other photographers finishing here was not exceptional, but I will be sure to mimic Struths in my own personal work.
[img_assist|nid=19819|title=Bas Princen, 'Mokattam ridge&' (garbage recycling city), 2009 ©|desc=|link=none|align=center|width=520|height=414]
Bas Princen, documents the Garbage City an area just outside of the city centre of Cairo, Eygpt. The surreal landscapes show rubbish in every spare corner, street, and structure as far as the frame fits, entirely covered in waste. This city is none-the-less occupied with the normal activity of life with every spare space filled with livestock and guerrilla urban gardens. The residents live within the city because they specialise in collecting, sorting and recycling specific types of material, yet lack the basic necessities of water, sewage and rubbish collection. The materials that cannot be recycled are burned locally for fuel, yet one questions with the amount of organised rubbish on show, that supply may soon exceed labour hours and potentially entirely overrun the city suburb.
Simon Norfolk, shifts our attention to architecture of war and conflict by presenting a series of work that look at spaces that coincide with technologies of the 21st century. Norfolk creates a tour of Afghanistan in the footsteps of photographer John Burke, the 19th century British photographer. Here Norfolk reimagines and responds to Burkes own imagery but with a shift into contemporary conflict. Themes of the photojournalist documenting political events in conflict zones rise within this project - One of the key images being a cell phone boaster station built on top of wreckage that once homed a market.
Lastly, I must highlight Nadav Kanders project titled Yangtze: The Long River. Here you see a collection of incredible images that form around the 4,100 mile Yangzte River which flows across China. The body of water plays an essential role to vast swathes of people, with more inhabitants living alongside the river than who live in the entire USA. Kander photographs the landscapes of development and those that he finds interacting within the locations, crossing the lines of landscape and documentary photography.
Constructing worlds brings together eighteen incredible photographers from the 1930s to the present day, with highly crafted imagery and subtle curating. The photography on show presents this ever-changing world where you observe and read the complex environments that cultures live in, with a clear aim to challenge the orthodoxy of architectural photography.
[img_assist|nid=19827|title=Nadav Kander, Chongqing XI, Chongqing Municipality, 2007 ©|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=520|height=408]
Other photographers on show include;
Bernice Abbot, Iwan Baan, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Helene Binet, Walker Evans, Luigi Ghirri, Andreas Gurskhy, Lucien Herve, Nadava Kander, Luisa Lambri, Simon Norfolk, Bas Princen, Ed Ruscha, Stephen Shore, Julius Shulman, Thomas Struth, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Guy Tillim.
This review is one of a series of reviews by Redeye member James Parker. James visited several exhibitions at Photomonth as part of our Festival Bursary Programme. You can find more of James's reviews in the opinion section along with an interview with the Photomonth director.
James is a portraiture and editorial documentary photographer and a recent graduate of Edinburgh Napier University.