"I believe that there’s also a certain form of abstraction in my early landscapes: for example, I often show human figures from behind and thus the landscape as observed “through” a second lens." — Andreas Gursky
Whether the current triumphs of young photographers are more the result of the demise of painting, a hunger for realistic imagery, or a variant of the proliferating "overdesign" of life and art, is something only time will tell. What we can say is that photographers no longer lack self-confidence, and that their gigantic glossy formats are stealing the show from contemporary painting. In retrospect, images by Albert Renger-Patzsch or Henri Cartier-Bresson look like miniatures. These masters refused to be called artists. Gursky, in contrast, would feel insulted if one referred to him as a photographer, in the craft sense. Like the German photographers Axel Hütte, Jörg Sasse, Thomas Struth, Candida Höfer, and Thomas Ruff, Gursky was a student of the Bechers.
Gursky's works are visual symphonies, obsessively packed with detail of a trompe l'cil precision. Like Albrecht Altdorfer's monumental painting Alexander's Victory, each of his subjects is expanded into a spatially all-encompassing universal landscape. His Tour de France I (2007) shows an Alpine stage that effortlessly covers two vertical kilometers in altitude. An asparagus field in Beelitz (2007), seen in a bird's-eye view, rises into a linear pattern that recalls the slats of a ventilation duct. The archipelago of Gursky's James Bond Island seems to consist of all the islands in Micronesia.
Gursky’s images tempt us to search for the joints between the separate pictures of which they are composed and the hinges between their changes of perspective. His reproduction of modules of a motif present intriguing rebuses to the eye. The photographic illusions and cinematic effects are fascinating: mass scenes reminiscent of the movie Ben Hur (Pyongyang I, 2007), or human figures swarming like insects over megastructures å la Blade Runner (Klitschko, 1999; Madonna I, 2001). The stadiums, arenas, factories overflow with people. And then, in sharp contrast, are those images that veritably celebrate aseptic emptiness: Prada Il (1997), Schiphol (1994), or Supernova (1999), evoking outer space as the last exit for mankind. This division between puristic places of contemplation—Rhine Il (1999)— and orgies of global hypertension and mass entertainment—the Chicago stock exchange, the Berlin Love Parade, traffic chaos in Cairo—seems almost schizophrenic. Seen from a great distance, Gursky's crowds appear tame and manageable. Images of mass animal raising in the United States and Japan provide an ironic commentary.
Excerpt taken from 50 Photographers You Should Know by Peter Stepan