During the 1980s, Gursky emerged as one of the leaders of a pioneering group of German photographers who had studied under the renowned professors Bernd and Hilla Becher in the seventies. His work shares their sense of the importance of formal structure combined with a documentary distance and objectivity. However, although seemingly objective, Gursky’s works are actually carefully orchestrated; he was one of the first contemporary photographers to use photo editing technology to manipulate his works. Gursky leaves the viewer in a position of uncertainty, forcing us to accept the inauthenticity of our perceived realities. Similarly, his works are embedded with multifarious artistic allusions. In Gran Canaria, the promise of the hazy, distant ocean horizon and the port clearly recall the work of Claude Lorrain and traditions of landscape painting. On the other side of the image, and at the other end of the artistic spectrum, the stack of oil drums calls to mind Christo’s giant oil drum walls. These allusions work within the image further developing Gursky’s exploration of globalisation and modern culture.
In Gursky’s hands, the dust and mess of this industrial landscape is transformed. What close to would appear chaotic and disordered is metamorphosed by the objectifying distance of his lens as he reveals afresh the complex order and intricate geometries of modern life; the unexpected beauty of the image forcing us to contemplate the central themes that underpin his work.
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