PHOTOMONITOR is an excellent free online resource, with listing, reviews, portfolios and plenty more all related to lens-based art. I've written there for some years, but thought I'd highlight in particular the ongoing Gursky show here...
Andreas Gursky for Photomonitor
25.01.18 - 22.04.18
Hayward Gallery / London / England
Pyongyang VII, 2007 / 17
99 Cent, 1999
That, which might be seen as anti-hierarchical and democratic move, is at its clearest in Paris, Montparnasse (1993) in which a vast block of flats is built up from many separate shots taken from two viewpoints so that all the dwellings are presented exactly front on. Such images have been equated with Kant’s definition of the mathematical sublime as ‘that in comparison with which everything else is small’, but another aspect of Kant seems equally relevant. He held that objects of sense are mere appearances ‘based upon a thing in itself, though we don’t know this thing as it is in itself, but only know the way in which our senses are affected by this unknown something’[i].
F1 Pit Stop 1, 2007
The way in which Gursky’s digital interventions elaborate on and ‘perfect’ reality or push it further in the direction seen to be its essence suggests access to a hyper-real ‘thing in itself’ beyond our superficial perceptions, beyond the subjectivity of a perspectival viewpoint – for surely perspective isn’t in things in themselves. See, for example, how the frenetic activity of mechanics at a motor grand prix is exaggerated by Gursky’s replication of the team of ten so that thirty are present in F1 Pit Stop 1 (2007); how distractions such as a power station are removed from Rhine II (1999) to present the fantasy riverside path along which to jog; or how the compilation of individual shots in May Day IV (2000) enables us to see the individuals in a crowd as lost in their own bubbles even as their identities are subordinated to the collective experience.
That’s often seen as a difficulty in Kant’s epistemology, for if we are in principle unable to access the ‘thing in itself’, what explanatory value does the notion have? That’s not a problem in art, the very heart of which taps in on the empirically untestable instincts of the subconscious. Painting seeks that too, of course, but the indexical starting points which Gursky’s works retain provide a different setting, and more easily persuade us that we may be seeing a vision of the world which is made somehow ‘more realistic’ by the changes to the documentarily real, by their departures from conventional reality.
What of the more recent work? Several depart from the categorisations above: first, through the introduction of identifiable ‘characters’; and second, by the acknowledgement of the mobile phone. The characters instantly undermine the reality of what we see. That may be because they are superheroes, such as Ironman in SH 1 (2013), where his romantic entanglement makes for a nice joke and also plays off the Katharina Fritsch sculpture of a caveman-come-hero (Lehmbruck I, 2013) in the same room: there are plenty of such neat curatorial touches. Or it may be due to the comical implausibility of the construction, as when the last four German chancellors are collaged into looking at a Barnett Newman painting: Review (2015). That strikes me as a bold move, but a misfire. White Cube throw a maximal spotlight on Review by making it the one image in its concurrent Gursky show: at the Hayward it felt like a cheap trick in a way which the altered landscapes don’t, and seeing it on its own made me think of Alison Jackson’s photographs, in which look-alikes mimic celebrities, apparently caught in embarrassing or over-intimate scenarios.
The phone-influenced strand is much more germane, as it connects to Gursky’s investigations of picture-making and perception. There are two big images which use impure focus creatively. Utah, (2017) originates from a phone snap, the effects of which Gursky recreated at scale, including several blurred areas indicating movement and the passage of time. It’s no stretch to see this as Gursky responding to his fellow German big beast Gerhard Richter. So alerted, Paris, Montparnasse reads as a Richter colour chart and Storage (2014), as one of Richter’s austere sculptural installations of glass in a metal structure. But, if the blur in Utah is an homage, that in Tokyo (also 2017) arrives promisingly at what might become the ‘Gursky blur’ as opposed to the ‘Richter blur’. It controls our gaze by adopting differential focus in sectional parts of complex surface, digitally inserted and not consistently related to distance. We’re back to Kant, to an illustration of how our own state of relative movement or attention, which aren’t in ‘the thing in itself’, feeds into our perceptions. And this is metaphorical territory, too: such, we might conclude, is the shifting and uncertain state of the world.