Happy Valley I
Date 1995
Medium Colour coupler print
Dimensions 180 x 220 cm
Inventory ID UID 102-244
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If, in a romantic evocation of the sublime, the monumental photographs of Andreas Gursky (1955) initially concentrated on capturing nature in order to portray its incommensurability relative to man, whose appearance in them is almost imperceptible (for example Alba, from 1989), in his later work we notice that his attention turns to urban landscapes, anonymous masses and deliberate repetition. In effect, this change of direction reflects a move towards the teachings of Bernd and Hilla Becher, who, via an assumedly conceptual approach, sought to convey a style of photography which transcended the traditional postulates imposed by the medium itself as a system of representation. Consequently, and as we can see in Happy Valley I and Happy Valley II (1995), Gursky's compositions from that point onwards try to capture the standardising characteristics of a society in which the ‘individual has lost what differentiates him’ (José Gómez Isla, 2001). For the photographer, the use of urban landscapes comes to signify the portrayal of social truth, which, in his view, is the only truth that reflects the fullness of reality. It is in this sense that his work seeks to examine a standardised social existence to reveal ‘A world that is not made up of hundreds of solitary instances, but configurations that are to some extent repeatable’ (Martin Hentschel, 2008). Works such as Paris, Montparnasse (1993) attest to this search for the standardisation of the urban landscape. Happy Valley II, in particular, is also decisive here. Photographing through a mesh that covers the entire landscape, Gursky demonstrates how you can achieve formal congruence in seemingly heterogeneous contexts. He thus shows how globalised society is rooted morphologically in an infinite plurality of micro-worlds that are highly individual yet simultaneously united by a profound homology. AMB