Videos are hard for me, because I don't like having my attention monopolized for as long as 23 minutes, 21 seconds. But now might be a great time to watch Ben Lewis's "Gursky World," from 2002. A reader named Mathijs pointed it out to me—I'd never seen it before. It's utterly charming, and quite beguiling too. The 23:21 went by quickly, perhaps even too quickly.
Ben's comment, "He seemed like a nice chap, and he drove a fast car" made me laugh. As Mathijs says, "It's a very enjoyable watch. Furthermore, they actually visit the location this exact photo [i.e., "Rhein II," the photo that set the record price on Tuesday] was taken!"
The video quality is poor, but don't let that dissuade you.
And I have to say I like Gursky more now than before. He does seem like a nice chap.
(Thanks to Mathijs)
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Werner J. Karl: "There's an interesting documentary about Andreas Gursky called 'Long Shot Close Up' by Jan Schmidt-Garre (German with English subtitles). I recommend it. You'll see and probably appreciate more how much work goes into a picture by Gursky. The price tag of course has other reasons, as Mike has already pointed out.
In the first few minutes Hilla Becher visits Andreas Gursky in his studio and they discuss this very picture. It definitely looks impressive in large format, hanging on a wall. Apparently, image editing software (Quantel) was used, very economically. Here is a loose translation of their conversation:
HB: I liked this picture very much. But Bernd [Becher] didn't like it, we really argued. It was way too abstract for him, to the point that it would no longer 'work.' He always used this expression. I think it is of course very abstract. One can clearly sense that a few things are missing, things that were there in reality. But I quite like this over-abstraction, where the Rhine runs through the landscape like a slime or a pudding. It shows something that really is the Rhine.
AG: You said that you can sense that something has been changed. Can you be more specific?
HB: I would imagine that here on this (top left) side, something is missing. Obviously you've put something right there? It's so suspiciously smooth, as if drawn with a ruler, and I am not quite buying into that.
AG: Fact is, that in this image the cleanup took place really economical. At this point (top left) it was pretty much as it is, but here (top right) was actually a power station.
HB: And that's all?
AG: No. Not all.
HB: And here at the bottom?
AG: The foreground, the road, the entrance to the water, these are all completely untouched.
HB: That's crazy!
AG: Yes. That's not to say that I just drove there and took a snapshot. It's my jogging route, so I know this location very well. Once I had decided to take this photo and looked at first contact sheets, I couldn't recognize my initial impression. I had to work hard to restore this initial impression. In the beginning we always had easterly winds, and the water was very calm. But I was looking for a rough surface. This required a very specific, opposing wind direction.
HB: Well. That's exactly what makes photography so beautiful. That one really 'creeps' into something, intensively engages with a subject. That one not always hopes for something to happen by chance on the way.
Featured Comment by Ben Syverson: "If anyone out there is not familiar with the 'Düsseldorf school' of photography, I highly recommend this beautifully printed book. Those few artists are the reason why there was a craze for monumental color photographs in the '90s and early 2000s, and their work is still incredibly influential.
Mike adds: Jörg M. Colberg of Conscientious picked this as the best photography book of 2010, if memory serves.
Featured Comment by Jeffrey Goggin: "I quite like Gursky's work, although I was dismayed to learn that it was less a reflection of reality than of someone's (not his?) post-processing skills. I also second Ben Syverson's recommendation of Stefan Gronert's book. I've had a copy of it for nearly a year now and have never managed to shelve it, because I find myself regularly browsing through it."
Featured Comment by ben ng: "Wonderful video, I enjoyed it very much. Having printed my pictures up to a maximum of 3x6 feet, I must say that the large format subject matter is not that easy to choose. Some pictures simply don't work; and then the choice of tonality, contrast, can also be different the larger you go. Not to mention the terrifying flaws that appear in the picture, that were not visible in a 13x19-inch print (others may not notice, but you do). I like Gursky's choices. If people want to pay such prices, more power to him."
Featured Comment by Caleb Courteau: "I'm glad I watched this video. When I saw the photo of the 'Rhein II' my immediate reaction was confusion. Why did the photographer think this scene was important? I did a Google search of some of his other work and started to get a feel for his style. Yes, the banality of modern life comes through his photos very strongly as the video points out. I'm glad Ben Lewis kept a sense of humor about the art world, but was very reverent toward the artist himself, and allowed us to listen to Mr. Gursky tell us in his own words what he thinks his photos mean."
Featured Comment by Hans Muus: "Enjoyed the video—also made me understand Gursky better. His claim of objectivity is food for thought, though. When one manipulates the contents of a photo to achieve, let's call it for want of a better word 'visual purity,' does that 'purity' also mean more 'objectivity'? We seem to define objectivity in an emotional way—as being detached, and somewhat cold. But when manipulation is needed to arrive at such 'objectivity'—shouldn't it be called subjectivity instead? After all, the manipulating photographer is forcing his/her vision upon reality more strongly. True objectivity would take great pains just to mitigate that influence as much as possible. (This is really just my little exercise in thinking about objectivity and subjectivity. Either way beautiful photographs can be made, if you ask me.)"