We’ve built them up all over the world and they’re impressive—bustling metropolises packed with millions of people moving about in orderly chaos. Concrete Jungle is Hamburg-based photographer Kai-Uwe Gundlach’s vibrant look at mega-cities in China, Spain and the U.S., shot while he was traveling in 2008 and 2009. Captured in painterly palettes of color, Gundlach’s geometric urban hubs link a city’s massive growth with nature’s forced retreat, asking us to contemplate the balance between a fascinating yet frightening global reality.
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On the southern tier lakes of Wisconsin, “10 Weeks” is typically the period between late December when a thick enough layer of the lake freezes and ices over, until the first Sunday after the first day of March. It’s during this time when you’ll find Mike Rebholz on one of the five lakes near his hometown of Madison making pictures of the ice shacks and the culture that exists within them.
Rebholz, an architectural photographer and self-described born and bred mid-westerner, was initially fascinated by the abstract nature of these lone structures resting upon lakes of ice. Because there are no regulations, the creators of these shacks, the fishermen, are free to build whatever type of structure they fancy. Thus, the design and adornment completely represent the sensibilities of their creators, and the near endless backdrop of ice and sky makes for the perfect seamless, accentuating the form and color of each shack while reinforcing the singularity and expression of its creator and occupant.
Rebholz isn’t content making 10 Weeks a mere typology of ice shacks; he goes deeper and examines the distinctiveness within each structure. In the process, he has discovered, like any other sporting event, that the fishermen span the cultural gamut of the local population and the variance equally vast in how they entertain themselves when the fish aren’t biting. Yet whether it’s overcast and miserably cold, or sunny and transcendently beautiful, from shack to shack the fishermen all share a common longing—their camaraderie and being someplace they love.
We know what iconic structures such as the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower, the Acropolis, and the like can teach us about the era and culture in which they were built. Less obvious is noticing buildings that might do the same today. NYC-based photographer Michael Vahrenwald’s project The People’s Trust proposes that we can derive information about our culture and its values through “looking at the structures that host our financial transactions and their legacies.”
Starting on Wall Street and then branching out into Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, Upper Manhattan and into the broader United States, these images of banks—each squarely shot, a bit worn, abandoned or embellished upon—builds into a final crescendo of overwhelming solitude and dignity. What will our banks and other institutions of wealth say about us in a century? Will any be standing? We recently talked to Vahrenwald about what he thinks.
What should we do with things that “once were?” Do we honor them? Re-build them? Mourn them?
“There is an inherent sadness in the work. For me, it’s about the ambivalence of power and its legacies. I’m interested in the information that we can gather from this architecture. We’re looking at a past system of values and its remnants. As to what to do with things that once were, I’m not a preservationist, nor am I sentimental. The most important thing we can do is pay attention to them, ask questions of them, determine what value they had in the past as well as what value they have today. We need reflect on these transitions and what they mean in a larger context.”
Did you learn anything about our country in the making of these images? About its people?
“I’m always surprised at what I learn while working on a project. The fundamental nature of photography is a negotiation with the world. Subject matter in photography is never simply what an artist had in mind. I’m surprised at how regional many of these former banks were, some were very small and very specific, either based on a location or a trade. Recently, I’ve taken an interest in the history of the pawn shop, which began as a surrogate bank for the poor, functioning very much like larger more formal banks. As far as my history is concerned, there’s no specific event in my life that lead me to this project. I’ve always been interested in the built world, systems of economics and power. I’m as familiar with banking and finance as anyone else, it’s an inescapable part the world that we live in.”
Netherlands-based artist Jan Adriaans‘ work is photography based, though his final pieces vary between video, ‘classic’ photographic works, and sculptures, within which he explores the relationship between materials, objects and space while testing the boundaries and limitations of the medium itself. We recently talked to Adriaans about his latest series Stage Fright.
You seem to find the perfect place or environment to take your photographs. Is this accidental or do you search for just the right spot with a certain image in mind?
“I start with creating a certain framework of thought. In this case it was ‘the aspects of a stage’. A stage represents a complex dynamic, first concealing and later revealing a spectacle, heightening the sense of anticipation for the act to come—it’s a spot for failure or success. I was searching for locations where that thin layer of glamour is presented gloriously, and therefore I went to Las Vegas, a well-constructed mirage in the desert of Nevada.
“During my process I decide which pictures best fit the idea. In the photos, I leave parts of construction or mistakes visible—this instability in the picture questions the intensions of the architecture. When I came back to Holland I responded to my Las Vegas experiences by making new photos and sculptures in my studio, creating self-made settings and objects with a certain danger to them. The process of making is a combination of observing, interfering and constructing.”
Stage Fright feels surreal, caught between dream and reality. Can you tell us a bit more about the series?
“Las Vegas makes you feel like you’re in a very manipulative environment by its complex combination of architectural elements, climate control and precise routing. People are lead from one sensation to the other in order to consume and to gamble. The choice of styles is interesting—the style of the interior of Caesars Palace is kind of Etruscan, while the design of the patio is inspired by the Trevi fountain of Bernini. Also the lightning is important. According to Robert Venturi in ‘Learning from Las Vegas’ you find that inside the hotels and casinos that “time is limitless, because the artificial light obscures rather then defines its boundaries. Light is not used to define space, it is anti-architectural. Space is enclosed but limitless, because the edges are dark.” I think the pictures also carry that sense of reality and dreaminess. But if you look closer you see it’s all constructed, fake and vulnerable”.
Your work in general consists of both photographic works and sculptures. In this series you add certain elements to the places you photograph. At which point in the process do you decide a work is a sculpture or photograph?
“One work leads to the other. Sometimes a failure can also lead to an idea for another work. I’m interested in this shifting of dimensions, so installations can have a physical (or spatial) appearance as well as a representation in a photograph. To understand better how these spots I encounter are designed, I interfere, to see what happens. A photo is a quite elusive medium for me, with a certain distance and mystique. An object can work as the link between the viewer and the architecture of the space where it’s presented, making you aware of where you are. I also use video and performance in my work. It’s a playful way of exploring within the framework. In the exhibition-space my aim is to make an arrangement where these works interact.”
Standing alone, in some of the worst neighborhoods, these nineteenth century structures were once attached to similar row houses that made up entire city blocks. Time and major demographic changes have resulted in the decay and demolition of many such blocks of row houses. Occasionally, one house is spared – literally cut off from its neighbors and left to the elements with whatever time it has left. Still retaining traces of its former glory, the last house standing is often still occupied.—Ben Marcin
Last House Standing reads like a tribute to the forgotten solo row house, an “architectural quirk” as German born, Baltimore-based photographer Ben Marcin calls them. Shot around Baltimore, Philly and New Jersey, Marcin catalogs these solitary buildings that at one time weren’t as lonely as they are now. Their placement in the urban landscape feels strange yet appealing, almost like portals to other dimensions—a case of when it stands alone, it stands out.
via the TYPOLOGIST
At first glance, Seattle-based photographer Eirik Johnson’s latest project Barrow Cabins seems like a typographical study of the temporary architecture built by the indigenous Iñupiat people of Barrow, Alaska. Further inspection reveals more than mere hunting cabins composed of detritus from a nearby abandoned navy base—each building is uniquely constructed and exhibits its own individual character. Johnson saw that in the absence of the builders, the structures themselves stand in for the maker and in essence become portraits.
First captured in the ethereal light of the Alaskan summer night, Johnson returned again to shoot from the same vantage point in the bleak winter landscape. The diptych ‘portraits’ appear to be suspended in time, caught between the extremes of the arctic seasons: the summer photos juxtaposed with their (white) negative in winter. In some cases the structures didn’t survive the two years between shoots; only a child’s playhouse or an abandoned swing set gives evidence of the cabin’s existence in this surreal and magical setting.
My work deals with the mental process of transition, a particular phase when our parameters of perception shift; we suddenly don’t see ourselves, our environment, or our life the way we used to. We undergo what could be called a gestalt change. That transitional phase feels like being in a place we know but can’t quite identify.—Lauren Marsolier
Los Angeles-based photographer Lauren Marsolier creates visually arresting images and perfect compositions in her series Transitions. Upon closer look, you can’t help but wonder what is real and what is fictional. Marsolier creates her images digitally, assembling elements of photographs she’s made both in Europe and in the United States. Though she’s drawing on photographs of the physical world to create her images, they depict a psychological landscape, a mind as it undergoes change and upheaval.
All over the country, rest areas are losing the fight to commercial alternatives: drive-thrus at every exit and mega-sized travel centers offering car washes, wi-fi, grilled paninis and bladder-busting sized fountain drinks. Louisiana has closed 24 of its 34 stops, Virginia, 18 of its 42; pretty much every state in the country has reduced its number of rest areas, or at least cut operating hours. And they’re not just being closed, they’re being demolished.
For the past 53 years, rest stops have given us rest, relief, hospitality and nostalgia. They have been an oasis of green to walk your dog, have a picnic, study the map. We can all relate to rest stops and what they represent as social and architectural icons of Americana. To me though, they are disappearing waysides of memories, anticipation and mystery of what the next one down the road will look like.—Ryann Ford
Austin-based photographer Ryann Ford honors the charm of roadside rest stops throughout the U.S. in her series Rest Stops: Vanishing Relics of the American Roadside. Inspired to systematically document them before they disappear, Ford creates a typological highlight of their architecture, environment, and spirit.
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Los Angeles-based photographer Nicholas Alan Cope shoots architectural subjects as abstract still lifes. For the buildings he shot in Los Angeles (made into a book called Whitewash, published by PowerHouse Books), he strips all detail from the structures, leaving portraits consisting only of lines, planes and shapes. The intense, black-and-white images provide a fresh and simplified view of everyday structures in a sprawling, complex metropolitan city.
Feature Shoot Contributing Editor Carolyn Rauch is the Director of Photography at Newsweek.
Behind the Edge showcases hotel facades in Jesolo Beach, Venice. Shot by Italian born, New York-based photographer Luigi Bonaventura, his intention is to show each structure as its Platonic ideal—as the architect imagined it. The repetitive forms and pops of color combine to create a graphic, eye-pleasing series.