Andreas Gursky grew up in Düsseldorf, where his father ran a small commercial photo-processing lab and where the artist first developed an interest in photography. In the early 1980s,after initial studies at the professional photography school, Folkwang Hochschule, in Essen, he enrolled at the Staatliche Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf, where he studied with Bernd and Hilla Becher. Known specifically for their series of black-and-white photographs of industrial buildings, the Bechers ’ students also included Thomas Struth and Thomas Ruff. Extremely involved and stimulating as teachers, they practiced an effective working methodology based on the choice and exploration of specific categories of subjects and marked by an objectivity of image and an analysis of form.
Retaining his teachers ’ conceptual approach, Gursky ’s early photographs analyze and delve into possible variations on a circumscribed subject: stores or portraits of the people working there. However, unlike the Bechers and most of the photographers during this period, he favored the use of color, which has remained a constant element in his work. The point of departure for Gursky ’s work is his search for an image as he has mentally conceived and imagined it.
The camera is only one possible means for achieving this goal, and he often also employs digital technology. At first he turned to this means only for small touch-ups, but later began using it to unite various images or even to completely conceive a work before photographing it.
Over time, and with the help of technology and new printing possibilities, his images have increased in size, becoming extremely large, while his choice of subjects has varied, with a predilection for a macroscopic view of the world that favors solitary and melancholy landscapes, large spaces of the urban periphery, or interiors of offices and factories.
He analyzes the human presence through urban environments experienced and inhabited during the normal
course of everyday life. The subject of May Day IV ,2000, is a large outdoor concert that takes place on the occasion of that holiday. Humans become almost an aleatory presence within the formal construction of the image, so that at first glance, from a distance, he is almost unrecognizable. The stains of color created by the multicolored crowd of people resemble an abstract painting more than a photograph taken of real life. The color completely saturates the photographic surface, while the cropping of the image decontextualizes the crowd of young people that are the principal subject of the work. It is only with a more careful and close-up reading that the viewer can make out the details and distinguish forms and figures.
Gursky ’s photographs exist in perfect equilibrium between formal attention —almost closer to grand paintings from the nineteenth century than to photographs —and the opposite impulse, toward an investigation of even the smallest details, sometimes offering an attentive yet dispassionate
view of contemporary life.