Thebes, West
Original title: Theben, West
Colour photograph
Dimensions: 183 x 144 cm
Reference: ACF0085
Edition: 5/5
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Like a good deal of Flemish painting, Gursky's photographic works require a close look which both searches for details with precision and notices the general composition of the picture. Without doubt, his landscapes and scenes could be compared with a certain kind of painting of the past which transcended reality -despite taking it as a starting point- by presenting elaborate compositions which have the capacity to astonish us about the world we live in. The almost metallic touch of the elements here, due to their apparent absence of life; the total clarity of what we see, which is beyond what out vision of things normally allows us; the well marked contours (when we know, as some of the great masters of painting have shown us in the past, that they are diffuse); the strange sensation of looking at works which have been done with that light that amazes us on certain winter days by allowing us to see what is around us with astounding definition. Those are some of the tools Gursky uses to surprise us and thus draw us inside the large format images he takes. As well as Flemish and Dutch painting, as well as Pieter Brueghel and Jan Vermeer, there is a Romantic category, the sublime, adapted to the present here. The perception that the people or buildings have no shadows, that when we are confronting these “tableaux” we feel there is nothing to be said, that they are photographs of the abyss and we are dazzled by their luminosity, makes us think of the world of visual high definition which contemporary vision prostheses impose on us. In his photographs Gursky presents natural or urban environments which, to a greater or lesser degree, the hand of man has helped to shape. His landscapes could not be understood without it, whether or not it appears in the images. However, in spite of that omnipresence as a species that intervenes actively to modify his environment, the figures that appear in his pictures could be called incidental, whether in his work from the eighties or his photographs of human masses at their work places taken in the nineties. Although it is certainly his last pictures of places, where human products are on show (whether shelves lined with shoes in a shop in Prada or an oil painting by Pollock in a room at the Museum of Modern Art in New York), which reflect the highest degree of loneliness of human beings; in them what they produce becomes totally autonomous. He seems to be reminding us that we see whatever incites us to look and, at the same time, takes a look at our own gaze, returning what we are looking at to the foreground because its nature is to be seen. The two pieces from the Fundació "la Caixa" Collection have all those characteristics, which have been present throughout his career, but they also have a logical, essential complementarity. Not only because they both show human architectural constructions which are outstanding for their monumental, disproportionate nature, but also because they both speak to us of contemporary man. And all that even though one is taken by day and the other at night; one shows ruins of the past and the other a building of the present; in one the horizontal takes pride of place, in the other the vertical; one is taken in a rural setting, in contrast with the city environment of the other. But both of them, as we have said, mention present day man in both his facets, his work and his guided leisure time. In one we see him as a tourist, in the other in the office: a schizophrenic organization of time in completely separate spaces. In Theben, West, Gursky provides us with an almost aerial perspective of an archaeological site around which some tourists are wandering. The composition is dominated by a central axis, marked out by the people walking in organised groups and heading for the bus park along a road in the middle of the desert. In the background the fertile lands of the Nile and the horizon that melts into the mist. The counterpoints between past and present and between arid and cultivated, are softened when it becomes clear that the two extremes are closely interlinked, whilst the author's position searches for a false distance. However, in Hong Kong Shanghai Bank the photograph is taken from middle height, thus complicating the verticality of the image. Here, too, what the tiny people are doing in comparison with the space around them (a clearly Romantic feeling) is incidental, but clarifies their work conditions. The light that emanates from the interior of the building contrasts with the darkness of the night, broken only by the lights of other nearby high-rises. The work has a geometry which is not plastically overwhelming, but oppressive and alienating as an allegory of the social structure. The author's very position seems to indicate a certain empathy with what is happening here: the proximity of the architecture, its transparency and the time of day are an invitation to nose into what is going on inside.

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