The fast-paced nature of the modern age means that we are always on the move. Exhibitions open this summer document this, reflecting on urban and rural landscapes. Positioning photographers as chroniclers of our times, these collections preserve the brief encounters made during journeys through unfamiliar territories. The results are often strange and alienating, holding up a mirror to society by traversing both the metropolis and open road.
For example, a collection of works entitled [Space] Street. Life. Photography. Seven Decades of Street Photography is displayed at Triennial of Photography Hamburg (until 21 October), and focuses on experiences within urban spaces. The exhibition features the work of German photographer Michael Wolf (b. 1954) amongst others, whose representations of looming buildings and claustrophobic communal areas in Hong Kong evoke an uncanny sense of anonymity. Many of the pieces shown in [Space] address the mysterious emotions aroused by city life and shared spaces of transition, such as trains, bus stops and nondescript diners. What these compositions often reveal is the intrinsically isolating atmosphere within crowded, fleeting environments.
In an increasingly congested world, retreating to open roads and spacious natural reserves can seem like an attractive proposal. Offering an alternative to the metropolis, work by Aesthetica Art Prize alumnus Joachim Hildebrand (b. 1964) focuses on landscapes in the American southwest. Noting the continual interplay between the supposed binary opposites of natural and constructed forms, Hildebrand notes: “I focus on blurred contours, contradictions, borders and transitions…from architecture to nature, to urbanity and the landscape.” In the show Wild West at Alp Galleries, Frankfurt, (until 17 August) the works record the imprints that mankind leaves behind on even the most isolated American towns.
Traces of human contact – a painted wall, a stop sign, a parking lot – impose on the raw beauty of the locales, whilst the minimal appearances of human subjects create a quality of detachment and seclusion. The images draw attention to locations in states of in-between, which are without identity and belong to no one. In effect, Hildebrand unearths the exciting and fascinating result of these hybrid worlds. “By looking closely at the built environment, urban structures and architecture in relation to nature, I make statements about people and societies,” he explains.
Further investigating the concept of rural retreat is Alec Soth (b. 1969), whose photographs are on display at Pizzuti Collection (until 12 August). Taken during road trips through the midwest, the compositions record the often unexplored narratives of suburban American life. Compared with the aforementioned exhibitions, Soth’s art is a deeply personal depiction of first encounters between strangers in an unknown space. Documenting particularly remote communities, the works showcase the interaction between intimate local groups, and the travelling stranger. Some images place the viewer in the uncomfortable position of the voyeur, as the hyperreal snapshots suspend one in a false sense of familiarity. Refreshingly, however, the individualism of Soth’s subjects are prioritised, creating a lasting impression on the viewer.
In a globalised age, the artists communicate an ongoing search for belonging within diverse worlds – from the high rise buildings of Hong Kong, to the flat, empty towns in the depths of Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi. The daunting city spaces depicted in Wolf’s works convey the desperate need for refuge, yet Hildebrand and Soth’s collections reveal that suburbia may not offer such a simple solution of sanctuary. Each series leads viewers to question the very definitions of urban and rural. Where do we feel more connected: in the densely packed city space, or the vast, open landscape?
1. Michael Wolf, Architecture of Density.
2. Joachim Hildebrand,Wild West. Image courtesy of the artist.
3. Alec Soth, Sleeping By The Mississippi.