by Dilpreet BhullarJul 20, 2023
To shoot from a camera is to claim authority over the object of possession. This act of capturing the apparent 'truth of reality' was practised and witnessed to its fullest, in conjunction with modernist tendencies to colonise the East in the 20th century. The transition of critical vocabulary from colonisation to encroachment in the 21st century was, thus, an effort to secure the promise of urban development. Düsseldorf-based photographer Andreas Gefeller’s camera functions as a tool to frame layers of construction of the built environment, underscoring this insatiable desire of the human tribe to assert their presence on the geographical terrain of Earth.
The abstract forms of architecture as subjects in the photograph, disturb the conventional perspective of a trained eye. As a child, Gefeller had always been creatively inclined to draw. In an interview with STIR, the photographer confesses, “Perhaps there are two hearts beating in my chest: that of the scientist and that of the artist. As a 'scientist,' I made distant tables of stars, as an 'artist' I drew them aesthetically with crayons and a ruler. With long exposure times I photographed stars that cannot be seen with the naked eye, and I became aware that photography can do much more than document things. With a camera, I can expand our horizons of perception and create images that seem alien to us, yet are no less true.”
The photograph visually narrates a story around reality and fiction, but this gradual shift in the works of Gefeller can be witnessed over a period of time. After the fatal event of Chernobyl, he travelled to Ukraine to immortalise loss borne by both the people and the place, which gave birth to the series Half-Life. But it was at the turn of 2000, that he donned the hat of a ‘scanner’ to capture high-resolution images of open grounds, only to 'stitch them together' in a format that would lend an abstract quality to the manufactured surface of earth.
A curious viewer would be keen to know how the two interests, urban spaces and photography, feed into each other to give the final shape to his photographic practice. If photographs play with the urban environment to present the unseen, Gefeller declares, “To be honest, I don't have a good feeling when I look at how man continues to spread out on earth, wasting resources and wiping out species.” Photography has helped him to see connections and to gain distance and a glimpse of the possible 'after.' He often photographs places that were created for and by humans, but are deserted. For instance, "The Soma series has photographs of the orphaned places at night, under an otherworldly black sky—the people gone as if obliterated. For Supervision, I step out of my body by assuming an impossible, almost supra-iridescent position. In doing so, I scan places, and photograph hundreds, sometimes thousands of images, which I assemble into one picture on the computer, creating an overview—a ‘super-vision’—that is both a construction and a documentation.”
For his recent Dust series, Gefeller photographed the swirling slag that remains after incineration in a landfill. Many of his series have a false bottom, pretending to be something they are not. In Dust, the viewers imagine themselves in outer space, as if they are looking at galaxies and stardust. Gefeller explains, “In reality, I am photographing with a high-speed flash, the disintegrating slag that remains after incineration in a landfill site. The residual is seemingly weightless and frozen in motion like stars, millimetre-sized fragments attain cosmic proportions. Supposed wonders of the universe turn out to be the ashes of residual waste, the excrement of civilisation." The series touches on current issues such as the energy crisis, climate change, and exploitation of raw materials. Yet it is not limited to these aforementioned dire situations. "Human civilisation becomes the proverbial speck of dust in the universe and will leave nothing behind—which is both disturbing and reconciliatory. Dust to dust—an eternal cycle of life and substances,” adds Gefeller.
With his photographic work, Gefeller hopes that viewers realise that there is more than one view of the world. “A sense of the invisible things; a sharpened perception that allows us to see and question things differently,” concludes Gefeller. He is currently working on his first retrospective exhibition, which features more than 70 works from 27 years, and is showing at the NRW-Forum / Museum Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf from March 2 to May 14, 2023. To coincide with the retrospective exhibition, he is also working on a new book, which will be published by Hatje Cantz Verlag. The book summarises his most important cityscape works and will be accompanied by text contributions by Stephan Berg (Kunstmuseum Bonn), Ingo Taubhorn (Haus der Photographie / Deichtorhallen Hamburg) and a glossary by Bettina Haiss (Art Historian).