Power photos

Spiegelkantine Hamburg IV 2000, 2000. C-print, 60 by 60 inches*

The Candida Höfer: Architecture of Absence exhibit, the at the ICA, set me thinking about the effect of her stunning photographs of impressive places–thinking enough to write a post instead of just adding a comment on to Roberta’s post. Besides, I wanted to use some of the images.

Although the photographs are indeed records of human occupation, I started thinking that there was something oppressive about them. There’s an airless quality and an unnatural stillness.

Schindler House Los Angeles VII 2000,2000 C-print, 60 by 75 inches*

Even the humblest architecture pictured in the exhibit is oppressive–a brute modern concrete home. The cafeterias are also suffocating. In Spiegelcantine, the patterns, the repeating orange plastic chairs, all add up to a regimentation, in which the material dominates over the human.

New York Public Library V 1999, 1999. C-print, 15 by 22 1/2 inches*

The New York Public Library, I space in which I’ve spent many hours, becomes a domineering cultural phenomenon in these photos. My recollection of the space is it is warm and scuffed by millions of readers. But Höfer’s image, taken from above the reading room floor, is not about the space as experienced by the library goer. It is rather about the power of culture, the power of the books lined up on the shelves, the power of the arched windows and the elaborate chandeliers, the power of a monument to books.

Wikingmuseum Oslo I 2000, 2000. C-print, 60 by 60 inches*

Similarly, the Viking ship in the museum in Oslo is presented as an object of power and worship, a symbol of cultural dominance raised up high in a chapel-like space.

The photographs include a surfeit of palacios, schlosses and castellos as well as numerous museums and libraries, where the absent people are either lost behind the crush of detail and the surfeit of wealth or they are figuratively regimented into obedient rows of multiple chairs.

Palacio Real Madrid XI 2000, 2000. C-print, 60 by 60 inches*

None of this is to say I dislike the photographs. I think they are marvelous. I just find their message somewhat overwhelming.

To achieve a compressive weight of detail and repetition even though the perspective suggests great space is quite the achievement.

*all photographs ©2004 Candida Hofer/Artists Rights Society (ARS)