Photography is an art form, but it is also the primary medium through which we explore architecture and space. When encountering cityscapes through the interface of a book or a screen we however tend to forget that what we see are photographical representations of this. The exhibition “StadtSicht/WeitSicht” in Kühlhaus Berlin, deals with different urban representations, the photographic ones presented by the two photographers Tor Seidel and Christian von Steffelin. Despite their different takes on different cities, both of their individual works are examples of photographic documentation of places, reports so to speak, intertwined with artistic exploration of how to represent these places.
The glossy desert
Both Seidel and Steffelin deal with the essentials of history and time. Seidel presents to his viewer the uncanniness of an inorganic growth of a place, build in the desert in a no man’s land, except from the more than wealthy sheiks that were to occupy it only few years ago. With no real urban life in his pictures Seidel’s photographs capture a strange emptiness, the architecture representing a hollowness with no connection to its surroundings. The otherwise obvious connection between architecture and lived life becomes punctured, presenting Dubai as an eerie city landscape with no historical or human fix point.
The aesthetic form of representation are glossy photographs, correspondingly to the vast and glistening facades depicted. As delicious the pictures are to look at as ambiguous they appear because of Seidel’s framing. Not only are we presented the urban areas as potent blocks soared into the air. The positioning of the photographer himself let us know the in comparison uncanny surroundings of the messy construction sites and pure desert, bringing forth questions of the ecology of the project of Dubai. Thus Seidel underscores what it does to a place to lack history; it slips the viewers ability to decode the place leaving it porous in meaning.
Palimpsests of meaning
Whereas Seidel’s photographs capture a hollowness in an urban landscape, Steffelin’s photographs present to his viewer an ever so appealing melancholia of places weighty with history. Even the textuality of the pictures themselves seems layered and tactile, like archive footage, due to the careful use of analogue camera. Steffelin’s motives are concerned around the drastic changes in especially East Berlin after the fall of the wall. The photographs are thus important documentation of exactly how architecture is connected to beliefs and ideas – just as they document the sometimes rough demolition of old urban substances when they have become outdated. Steffelin captures the moment just in between, bringing to the photographs a dialectic substance of past and present, of “what was” and “never will be again”. It is a juxtaposition that turns the photographs into poetic tombstones, reminding us of the exact ability of the camera, that of giving us and preserving a piece of reality that is no longer there. They become palimpsests of historical meaning, containing layer upon layer. It is a story of disappearance and replacement, but not only that. The choice of motives and the processing of the pictures, the aesthetic representation so to say, capture an atmosphere of that beyond dialectics of a place, making the photographs balancing between documentation and artistic creation.
The photographs of Tor Seidel and Christian von Steffelin are to be seen in companion with other artists at the exhibition “Stadtweit/Stadtsicht” in Kühlhaus Berlin until the 11th of October 2015.