Edited by Uta Grosenick and Thomas Seelig
London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, 2008
The book is well-organised, as it needs to be for such a massive survey, and has a succinct essay on each artist. However equally useful, especially to the relative newcomer to the field, is the introductory essay on the aesthetics of photography, by Paolo Bianchi, from the Hochschule der Künste in Zurich. Bianchi ranges sectionally from 'The Photography of the Imagination', to 'Of Emotion', 'Of Memory', 'Of Association', 'Of Sensation', and recognises that sharp-eyed vision has to be the driving force of perception. The manually created landscapes of Sonja Braas indicate a commitment to the German romantic tradition, but she explores contemporary yet timeless nature further towards a climatic doom. Marine Hugonnier depicts horizons sublimely. The female portrait image, is a recurrent subject of contemporary photographers. Dirk Braeckman produces a haunting but expressionless kiss. Ruud Van Empel succeeds in creating a supremely innocent doll out of a seven-year-old girl. And Zbigniew Libera shows a curious retake of the famous image of a Vietnamese girl running down a road in distress; Yet this time, there is a similar posture, but the more mature girl is laughing along with her companions.
The depiction of void, in various formats, seems to emerge as a repeating theme for photographers, whether intentionally or not. Such a device can be achieved as evinced in this book through the work of numerous artists, or else denied meaning. Usually the photographer intrudes, his or her recognition, of whatever meaning has not been drained away. What Bianchi describes as the typology of places can yield emotionally charged backgrounds such as Dutch marshlands or Japanese cherry trees. The work of Tacita Dean undoubtedly stands out: she is a theorist able to back up her ideas with her own images. Her image of a great tree is resonant with time and ecology, yet curiously human.
Throughout this book, the qualities of human vulnerability and surviving innocence seem to enhance the possibilities for survival from global catastrophe. A work such as this, replete with human detritus and natural beauty serves to encourage artists towards a realistic future. It helps us to recognise that the art of the photographer, or the photograph as medium, have never been as central and as important to culture as they are today.