Tokyo by Andreas Gursky

Over the course of more than 30 years – almost the entirety of his career – Gursky has argued that purely documentary styles of representation are no match for the world’s complexity. ‘Reality can only be shown by constructing it’, he claims, and ‘montage and manipulation’ paradoxically bring us ‘closer to the truth’.

Andreas Gursky, Tokyo (2017)

The artist began working with digital post-production in 1992, often using computer software to edit and combine shots taken with a film camera. As well as combining multiple different images to make a single work, he also uses editing software to remove, add or emphasise certain elements of his compositions.

Recently, Gursky has described the relationship between construction, documentation and authenticity in his work as similar to the way that we might recall a landscape glimpsed from a moving vehicle: ‘You look out of the window and get an impression, but when you write it down it will be what you imagine’, he explains.

This image of a Tokyo neighbourhood is constructed from the details of dozens of individual shots taken from the window of a high-speed train. While the foreground of this image is predictably out of focus, Gursky has also inserted blurry passages in the middle of the picture, prompting us to question what we are seeing and to look again.

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Pyongyang VI by Andreas Gursky

Following his image of a crowd of traders on the trading floor in Tokyo, Stock Exchange (1990), Gursky has continued to capture crowds at work and at play, not least in his May Day series (1997–2006), which depicts an annual rave that takes place in Dortmund, Germany. 

Andreas Gursky, Pyongyang VI , 2007/17

In Pyongyang VI (2007/17), Gursky turns his attention to a very different kind of collective activity. The Arirang Festival, or Mass Games, is a vast gymnastic and artistic event that takes place in North Korea’s capital city Pyongyang.

The Games are held each year in honour of the previous dictator, Kim Il-sung. Gursky photographed the event – which features around 100,000 people including 70,000 gymnasts and over 30,000 school children – from an elevated altar dedicated to Kim Jong-il, in 2007.

The artist has recently returned to the subject, and reviewed previously unpublished material, due to the current political situation in North Korea.

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Utah by Andreas Gursky

This vast, cinematic work was inspired by a photograph that the artist took on his phone through the window of a moving car. It depicts a paradoxically ‘wild’ but mediated landscape that has provided the backdrop for science fiction films, westerns and road movies.

Utah (2017)

The apparent spontaneity of the image, its out-of-focus passages and odd glitches, sets it apart from almost all of Gursky’s previous work. With Utah (2017) Gursky has fashioned a monumental homage to the mobile phone photo – casual, immediate, disposable – and the outsized role it plays in today’s visual culture.

Utah is one of eight new works by Andreas Gursky that are on display for the first time.

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Klausen Pass by Andreas Gursky

During the 1980s, while studying at the Düsseldorf Art Academy under Bernd and Hilla Becher, Gursky made a series of photographs of people engaged in leisure activities in and around Düsseldorf. Many of these early works explore the relationship of human beings to their environment, and the way that the landscape has been altered or controlled by its human inhabitants.

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The figures in these early works often appear at odds with their environment, dwarfed by the structures – natural or man-made – that they find themselves beside. 

This is the case in Klausen Pass (1984), an image that the artist took at the request of a friend during a journey through the Swiss Alps. The figures in this image are arranged in what Gursky describes as a ‘perfect constellation’ across a hillside – a fact that the artist only noticed when he enlarged the negative, long after the photograph was taken. With Klausen Pass, Gursky discovered how he could use a distanced perspective to explore the relationship between human beings and their environment.

Gursky exhibition page

Salerno I by Andreas Gursky

In the 1990s, Gursky began to photograph the built environment, turning his attention to labour, scenes of industry and to large-scale environments or structures that he refers to as ‘aggregate states’ – a whole made up of repeating elements. Salerno I (1990) – which captures a busy harbour basin in an Italian port town – is a pivotal image for the artist.

Salerno I by Andreas Gursky

As he explains: ‘Salerno represented a change in direction. The thematic and completely straightforward moment’ was replaced with a ‘more abstract point of view.’ This abstraction is achieved by technical means: ‘By retreating further back from the subject and using a light, telephoto lens, the image composition becomes flatter, foreground and background merge into a single entity’. To the artist, this perspective is ‘democratic’: each element of the image is given equal importance.

Gursky exhibition page

The 2017 World Press Photo Exhibition returns to Southbank Centre

The 2017 World Press Photo Exhibition returns to Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall for the 21st year from 3–20 November 2017 . The free exhibition brings together 152 winning photographs from the annual World Press Photo Awards, showcasing some of the most powerful, emotional and often disturbing press images of the year.

In its 60th year, the World Press Photo Awards continues to be the premier annual international competition for press photography and multimedia storytelling. This year’s winners were drawn from a bank of 80,408 images taken by 5,034 photographers from 125 countries. The exhibition at Southbank Centre will be the only display in England, however the winning photographs travel together to 45 countries and are seen by more than four million people each year. The subjects of the images on display are widely varied including documentation from rallies protesting police brutality, reports from war-torn terrains and striking images selected from nature and sports editorial.

Read the full press release

Annie Leibovitz on Women

On Sunday 22 October Annie Leibovitz joins us at Southbank Centre to discuss her new work Annie Leibovitz: Portraits 2005-2016, as part of London Literature Festival. Ahead of her appearance here we take a moment to look at her previous work on Women, a project Leibovitz has taken to view as being forever incomplete.


In 1999 Annie Leibovitz, in collaboration with partner Susan Sontag, put together Women, a collection of female portrait photography, to acknowledge and celebrate the status, the achievements, and the roles of women at the end of the 20th Century.

The subject of the photographs, taken especially for the book, occupy a broad spectrum. They include farmers, coal miners, showgirls, movie stars, a surgeon, a general, a rap artist and the secretary of state. Individual photographs, which carry a collective message, as Sontag explained in the book’s accompanying essay.

Each of these pictures must stand on its own. But the ensemble says, So this what women are now - as different, as varied, as heroic, as forlorn, as conventional, as unconventional as this.
Susan Sontag, Women, 1999

However, despite receiving significant and just acclaim, it was a project which the Leibovitz felt should never stand still. ‘It really resonated’ she told New York Times in 2016, but ‘the project was never done.’ This sense of the project as being open-ended, something of a starting point with no determinable end, is perhaps inevitable, given Leibovitz’ own oft-quoted admission that she is never not a photographer.

One doesn’t stop seeing. One doesn’t stop framing. It doesn’t turn off and turn on. It’s on all the time.
Annie Leibovitz

And so, seventeen years on, came a continuation to that initial project, Women: New Portraits, an exhibition featuring a whole new collection of portraits for a whole new generation of women. Celebrities, CEOs, activists, even Queen Elizabeth II herself are committed to canvas by Leibovitz as she continues to chart the changing notion of what it is to be a woman.

This time, that sense of fluidity, of a work never finished was brought more keenly to the fore, as Leibovitz took the exhibition around the globe, and continued to expand it with every stop. In all Women: New Portraits visited ten cities, from San Francisco to Singapore, with Leibovitz photographing prominent women from each one, cementing the idea of a work in progress and brilliantly fusing the old with the new.

You can’t look at all those images without seeing the true human diversity of women, not characterised by whatever feminine idea or roles of who we’re supposed to be.
Gloria Steinem, journalist and activist, who assisted Leibovitz with Women: New Portraits

To drop convention and further bring women, and the female voice, to the fore Women: New Portraits was hosted not in museums or galleries, but in historically rich pop-up sites - such as Wapping Hydraulic Power Station, London, and the former Bayview Correctional Facility, New York. Here the audience was invited to join Leibovitz and activist Gloria Steinem, who assisted in compiling the exhibition, in ‘talking circles’ on their experiences, conversations which ranged from sexual violence against women in Mexico City to the experience of women in San Francisco’s tech industry.

"WOMEN: New Portraits" – A look behind the lens: Zurich

When the initial book, Women, was conceived its aim was, as Sontag explained, to defy the tradition of photographing women for their beauty rather than their character. With Women: New Portraits that notion, though not lost, had advanced. ‘The imagery of women has to catch up with the imagery of men,’ Leibovitz told New York Times ahead of the exhibition’s showing in Manhattan. Though the exhibition’s tours are now over, you sense the project will remain alive so long as we have Leibovitz.


Annie Leibovitz comes to Southbank Centre on Sunday 22 October, to discuss her new work Annie Leibovitz: Portraits 2005-2016, as part of London Literature Festival.

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Meltdown festival, in your photos

From its very conception this year's Meltdown, was always set to be like no other. Taking the reigns, M.I.A. promised to deliver a festival that pushed boundaries. And the curator hasn't disappointed, offering up a Meltdown that’s crackled with life and combined pulsating hip-hop with poignant installations.

We saw people of all ages and backgrounds descend on Southbank Centre for the festival, and share their experience via #MeltdownFest. So to showcase some of what went on at Meltdown, it seemed only apt to do so through the images of those who were here to experience it.


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For the duration of Meltdown, Southbank Centre underwent a distinct makeover, decked out with M.I.A.’s distinct iconography and colourways - a look which also gave up plenty of opportunities for selfies and photos.


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It all kicked off on Friday 9 June, as Mercury-Prize winning trio Young Fathers got things off to a flying start, delivering an emphatic set that was monochrome in appearance, but proved a riot in sound.

Like Young Fathers, Soulwax too opted for a set of limited colour, as they took to the Royal Festival Hall stage. Flanked with three drummers, the duo performed tracks from their latest album Deewee in a barrage of white light.


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Meltdown isn’t just about the music however, it’s also brought a number of installations to Southbank Centre. These included Propa Tee, an exhibition in our Archive Studio, curated by M.I.A, Remi Kabaka and Harris Eliott, which showcased 40 years of music t-shirts.


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Project Refuge/e was an exhibit of a more poignant nature. A tent-like shelter built from the same materials as those made available to refugees, it gave a first-hand sense of the lives of people who have been forced to flee Syria.


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Extending this tie to refugee life in the Middle East, Seenaryo’s Beirut Party enabled revellers here at Southbank Centre to join a gig attended by refugees of Syria and Palestine as it was live-streamed from Riwaq Cafe in Beirut.


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Not content with taking over the inside of Royal Festival Hall, Meltdown has also spread out onto Riverside Terrace, and in the weekend sunshine rocked to a distinctly Caribbean beat as Just Vibez Carnival took over with music, flags and phenomenal costume.

As the festival has spread outside, it's also brought the sounds of the streets inside, starting on Sunday night as french rapper MHD brought the Afro Trap sound he’s pioneered to Southbank Centre.


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And on Monday, this was followed up by something much more local, as Peckham’s own Giggs brought Grime to the Royal Festival Hall stage for a performance that had the press falling over themselves to give four star review after four star review.


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We gave the Royal Festival Hall a night off on Tuesday, but it returned with a bang - not to mention a hell of a lot of light - on Wednesday courtesy of Swedish rapper Yung Lean. The twenty-year-old from Stockholm delivered an incredible-looking show, for one of the festival’s youngest audience.


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Another night, another genre as Meltdown’s seventh day was headlined by a dancehall and reggae double-header courtesy of I Wayne and Dexta Daps.


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Beats were the order of the day on Friday; hip yet hefty beats as the festival’s second weekend kicked off with the lo-fi electro of Crystal Castles (above), before moving downstairs to keep the party going with a club night courtesy of Awful Records (below)


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Already huge in the US, where she can count such heavyweights as Beyonce and 50 Cent among her fans, Young M.A brought her everyday rap to the Royal Festival Hall stage for an emphatic UK debut.


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And on Saturday as with Friday there was no cause for the night to end when the Royal Festival Hall lights came on as once again Meltdown bounced on in the Clore Ballroom, where the stage alone wasn’t enough to contain Mykki Blanco during his gig with JD Samson.


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Quick shout out to East London community radio station Rinse FM who kept the festival vibe going throughout the ten days of Meltdown, broadcasting live from our Community Cube.


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But all good things must come to an end, and on Sunday evening Meltdown’s curator, M.I.A., took to the stage to bring the curtain down on her own festival, in her own inimitable style. Fences, dancers, confetti and stage invasions; it was a full-on performance that gave a fitting end to a Meltdown which M.I.A. had always promised would challenge convention.

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Andreas Gursky

© Andreas Gursky/DACS, 2017. Courtesy: Sprüth Magers
The first major UK retrospective of the work of acclaimed German photographer
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25 Jan 2018 – 22 Apr 2018
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Andreas Gursky at Hayward Gallery: about the exhibition

London’s Hayward Gallery stages the first major retrospective in a UK institution of the work of acclaimed German photographer Andreas Gursky (Germany, 1955) from 25 January 2018.

I’m thrilled that we will reopen Hayward Gallery with an exhibition by an artist who has created some of the most visually compelling images of his generation
Ralph Rugoff, Director of Hayward Gallery

Widely regarded as one of the most significant photographers of our time, Gursky is known for his large-scale, often spectacular pictures that portray emblematic sites and scenes of the global economy and contemporary life. The exhibition will feature approximately 60 of the artist’s ground-breaking photographs, from the 1980s through to his most recent work, which continues to push the boundaries of the medium. Gursky’s art is driven by an interest, and insight, into forms of collective existence and includes depictions of massive man-made structures and huge gatherings of people in nightclubs, factories, arenas, and vast landscapes. As he has stated: ‘I only pursue one goal: the encyclopedia of life.’

Exhibition marks 50th anniversary

Andreas Gursky marks the beginning of the Hayward Gallery’s 50th anniversary year and is the first exhibition to take place in the gallery following its two-year refurbishment, along with two of Southbank Centre’s other venues, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room. For the first time since the Hayward’s original opening, the gallery’s pyramid roof lights will allow natural light into the spaces below. 

Artworks on display

The exhibition includes some of the artist’s most well known works including Paris, Montparnasse (1993), an immense and iconic photograph showing a seemingly endless block of flats; and Rhine II (1999/2015) a sleek digitally-tweaked vision of the river as a contemporary minimalist symbol. Kamiokande (2007) featuring the vast underground water tank within the Kamioka Nucleon Decay Experiment, Japan; and May Day IV (2000/2014) depicting hundreds of revellers at Germany’s long-running Mayday techno music festival. Often employing a bird’s-eye perspective, these large-format pictures – which rival the scale of monumental paintings – boast an abundance of precisely captured details, all of which are uncannily in focus.  

Since the late 1980s, Gursky has depicted a broad spectrum of contemporary life including sites of commerce, industry and tourism across the globe, making pictures that draw attention to our changing relationship with the natural world and chronicle the effects of globalisation on day-to-day life.  

From the frenzied stock exchange seen in Chicago Board of Trade III (2009) to the vast distribution centre shown in Amazon (2016), and from the sea of candy-coloured budget items featured in of 99 Cent II, Diptych (2001) to the eerily empty display shelves in Prada II (1997) his images provide a sweeping visual record of our age. Over the past three decades, Gursky has increasingly made use of computer-enabled post-production techniques to make photographs whose scale, precision, composition, and complexity are unprecedented and have critically expanded the possibilities of the medium. 

I only pursue one goal: the encyclopedia of life
Andreas Gursky

In recent years, Gursky’s experiments in manipulating images have led him to create examples of ‘fictional photography,’ extending his implicit questioning of our faith in the factual veracity of images. As he has remarked, today, ‘reality can only be shown by constructing it’. Review (2015) shows a constructed fictional scene in which German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her three predecessors gaze at (and are dwarfed by) Barnett Newman’s Vir Heroicus Sublimis (1950–51). 

Abstract aesthetics

Following a thread that has developed throughout Gursky’s career, a number of recent pictures share more with abstract painting than documentary photography. For example, Untitled XIX (2015), depicts acres of Dutch tulips which, seen from a considerable height, appear as a quasi-abstract composition featuring bands of subtly variegated colour. Straddling the line between abstraction and representation, these works underline the formal concerns that run through all of the artist’s work.  

Ralph Rugoff, Hayward Gallery Director, says: ‘I’m thrilled that we will reopen Hayward Gallery with an exhibition by an artist who has created some of the most visually compelling images of his generation – work that has changed not only the vocabulary of photography, but of picture-making in general. Acutely thoughtful as well as ingeniously composed, Gursky’s photographs provoke us to reflect anew on contemporary social landscapes across the world. A true innovator engaged in thinking about and picturing the times in which we live in, Gursky is the perfect artist for launching the 50th anniversary year of the Hayward.'

Andreas Gursky is curated by Hayward Gallery Director, Ralph Rugoff, in collaboration with the artist.  Eimear Martin is Assistant Curator on the exhibition.

© Andreas Gursky/DACS, 2017. Courtesy: Sprüth Magers


The Andreas Gursky exhibition at Hayward Gallery runs 25 January - 22 April 2018.

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