From 22 September 2012 to 6 January 2013, Kunsthal KAdE
presents a selection of 160 photographic works from the extensive Martin Z. Margulies Collection in Miami. Guest curator is Frenchman Régis Durand, former Director of the Jeu de Paume and Frances Centre National de la Photographie, both in Paris. Durands choice of exhibits is based on a phrase from a poem by the German poet Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843), Wenn in die Ferne geht der Menschen wonend Leben. He translates this as The Dwelling Life of Man. The exhibition was on show in Spain earlier this year, at the Fundación Foto Colectania (Barcelona) and the Fundación Barrié (Coruña).
Human condition; concerned or documentary photography
Durands selection spotlights photographs that expose the human condition: both the physical built environment and the people who live and work in it and the characteristic signs that occur in that environment. Durand has selected work by a range of world-famous photographers/artists of the twentieth century, including Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Lee Friedlander, Ed Ruscha, Helen Levitt, Stephen Shore, William Eggleston, Andreas Gursky, Gillian Wearing, Gregory Crewdson, Joel Sternfeld and Roni Horn.
Durand has divided the exhibition into three sections:
- Building and exploring: mapping territories,
- Being in the world and
- Flux, signs and symbols.
Building and exploring: mapping territories (section 1)
Building and exploring: mapping territories focuses on the built environment: the homes and buildings that people have dreamt up and constructed in order to shape their lives and working activities. The environment that people have created for themselves tells you something about who they are. This section looks not just at architecture, but also at the physical condition of urban areas and other places where people live. Among the photographers represented here are Lewis Baltz, Stephen Shore, Ed Ruscha, Bernd & Hilla Becher and James Casebere. The section also includes a life-size projection of a video documentary by Albanian artist Anri Sala concerning urban regeneration in a dreary suburb of the Albanian capital Tirana.
Being in the world (section 2)
Being in the world examines the social aspects of the way we inhabit the world. What are our living conditions and who lives and works in them? Exhibits range from the street photography of Bernice Abbott and Helen Levitt (for example, pictures taken in the African-American community of 1930s Harlem (NY)) to portraits of labourers and other people taken by Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, August Sander and Zwelethu Mthethwa. The section also includes photographs of machinery taken by Albert Renger-Patzsch and Thomas Ruff which pay silent witness to the industrialization that was so crucial to life in the 20th century. In addition, Indian film-maker Amar Kanwars video A Season Outside exposes tensions on the frontier between India and Pakistan through images of a cross-border train journey a trip charged with emotion because of the two countries historical relations (and shared history). Conflict is another factor that conditions our lives.
Flux, signs and symbols (section 3)
This is the most complex of the three sections. It brings together a number of different themes. One of them is nature, which has such a heavy influence on life on earth. It can cause destruction, as Hurricane Katrina did at New Orleans in 2005 (portraits of survivors by Jeff Brouws), but is also fragile (photo-series by Olafur Eliasson showing untouched nature on Iceland). And then every culture has its own significant icons. Alec Soth, Joel Sternfeld and William Eggleston (represented by an extensive photo-series) use their sharp eye for characteristic scenes to delve deep into the American psyche. Gregory Crewdson likewise presents an All-American Scene, but with a strongly surreal twist. Finally, Luc Delahaye confronts us with a harsh fact of contemporary life: the impact of war (in Afghanistan) on everyday experience.
Man in his environment
The way people live and work mutates constantly in response to a changing world. Once, there were only agrarian communities, where life was lived in accordance with nature. Then, everyday life was transformed by the industrial revolution and the spread of electrical power. Now, our lives are influenced and sometimes ruled by the digital technology of today. Alongside these changes, the way we live is also conditioned by socio-economic structures. And finally, for good or ill, we are all subject to the forces of nature. This cocktail of influences varying over both time and space shapes the outward appearance of human societies.
But within the hotchpotch of images and influences, there is one eternal constant: Man himself. How do people manage time and again to adjust to changing circumstances? How do they negotiate this constantly changing social environment? Innumerable sociological and anthropological studies have sought to answer that question through scientific analysis. Of equal interest, however, is the work of artists and photographers who have brought their individual scrutiny to bear on the subject in an attempt to capture and comprehend human life and the contemporary zeitgeist.
For photographers, this is a particularly attractive subject. Photography is a direct reflection of what is going on before our very eyes. A photographic image carries a suggestion of objective experience that is absent in visual arts like painting. The photographers lens holds up a mirror to everyday life or so it seems; because, of course, photography is as subjective as the other visual arts. We all know how photographs can be manipulated. Even so, they have a much greater aura of truth.
Within photography, the 20th century saw the emergence of major movements focusing on the human condition: many great photographers worked in the fields of concerned or documentary photography. And at the end of the century a new group of photographers emerged who had initially worked in other traditionally more autonomous and subjective media but now turned to photography as a way of portraying the world.