Author Archives: Joerg Colberg

Review: The Japan Series by Andres Gefeller


Andreas Gefeller has been well known for meticulously constructed images of the surfaces we walk on. For each of those images, he walks around with a digital cameras elevated with some contraption, taking the many source images that are then assembled on a computer. The results, visual surveys of small pieces of our world, often are startling and strange (see my review of a book filled with such images). Of course, I’ve been wondering where he would go from there, hoping he wouldn’t turn what has been very successful into something that would merely become a shtick (as the person not producing those images, of course, it’s easy for me to say that). (more)

Now we know: Instead of looking down, he started to look up. To be more precise, during a visit to Japan, Gefeller noticed the ubiquitous power and telephone lines, and he started to produce images of those. There’s one thing missing in the final images: The poles that hold those cables and boxes up. The absence of those poles immediately transforms the results into something as alien as Gefeller’s earlier images: Something is very familiar, yet it looks very strange.

Make no mistake, photographs of power lines have been taken before, by many different photographers (even I have a set of negatives floating around somewhere…). But Gefeller manages to take things to a different level. These new images have now been published as The Japan Series.

I imagine it must have been a huge temptation to produce a very glossy, shiny book of those electrical contraptions. It’s technology, after all, and we like our technology shiny and glossy. But the book is the complete opposite, using a thick cardboard for the covers and matte paper for the contents. It’s very interesting how this does yet another transformation, because the feel of the book is almost organic. Almost.

But just that fact that it’s not a shiny book gives the work such a different, other dimension. At times it even makes you forget a little that you are looking at photography. Of course, that is one of those crucial ingredients in photobook making: Knowing that even seemingly small choices can make a big difference.

The Japan Series, photographs by Andreas Gefeller, essays by Celina Lunsford, Christoph Schaden, 80 pages, Hatje Cantz, 2011

The relaxed observer


Five years ago, a huge debate erupted in the US over a photograph taken on September 11, 2001, by Thomas Hoepker. The photograph showed five people relaxing on a sunny Summer day, the Manhattan skyline with a gigantic plume of smoke from the fallen World Trade Center towers as a backdrop. You can find the photo, with the photographer’s point of view here (there are also links to various other pieces, including an email one of the photograph’s subjects sent in). I had to think of that photo and the reaction it caused when I came across the photo above (the image above is cropped, the original can be found here, and it comes via). In the background, you can see the smoke from fires in San Francisco, which had just been hit by an enormous earthquake, on April 18, 1906. In the foreground, you see, well, people lounging, and there are two women turned towards the camera. They are a bit blurry, but one is very clearly smiling – her camera smile, one must assume. One might wonder why these observers are all so relaxed, just like the ones in Hoepker’s photograph. Needless to say, a picture tells a story, but it might just be the story we want to hear or see. But whatever it is, there is something in photography that can make us do all kinds of things, which includes smiling for the camera even when we’re standing in front of a city on fire. I don’t think this means we’re callous, I’m tempted to think that we are being seduced in ways that we might regret later. That also is the power of photography.