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Steven Humblet - Different readings of Dani Gherca's work, 2022

Ghercă gives an interesting turn to the genre of the photographic cityscape. By underexposing the shot and literally turning the photograph 90° clockwise, the city becomes an abstracted entity defined by interlacing lines. With this abstraction comes the idea of the city as a mere gathering of buildings: there are no people visible, the streets seem abandoned, all human activity has ceased to be. The white lines, etched into the image, embrace empty volumes. The image shows the borders of the buildings, their outlines, but doesn’t reveal anything about their surface, about their texture and structure. They encompass black voids. The end
result is a black but also bleak vision of the contemporary city as an inhumane maze. The fact that it is captured from a helicopter flying over the city, a non-human viewpoint, stresses this dreary vision on the contemporary city. Turning the image sideways, not only makes the subject unrecognizable, but it also suggests that the city has fallen over. It has been knocked out. It’s no longer standing firm and proud, but has been defeated.

All this works together to make these images strong metaphors for our current age. Its emptiness resonates with our past experience during the pandemic, while at the same time it seems to foretell also something sinister about our immediate future. As such, it could be seen as a premonition of what would happen if we can’t control the current climate crisis and the accompanying sixth mass extinction of species. The empty streets, the harsh lines, the black voids, then could be seen as depicting an inhabitable environment where everything human has disappeared from. The city still stands, but as an empty shell, as a meditative ruin, a remnant of what once was, a token of a previous and now extinct civilization. I’m pointing towards these different readings of his images to show their richness, although you’re already aware of that. But I also wrote them down for myself, to understand how a close reading (an intellectual analysis) of them would lead me to engage on a more profound level with their emotional impact.

Another element that I found fascinating in his work, another layer if you will, is that these affects are created by using visual strategies that are only available in photography. By using the photographic system against itself, against what it is supposed to do (delivering readable images with a clear balance between light and dark, showing the world from a human perspective and in the right orientation), the images again stress the non-human aspect of the photographic procedure. This gritty vision of the city can only be achieved by photographic means, by putting an apparatus between us and the world that gives its own mechanic (and unforeseen) interpretation of it. More than anything else, it is this non-human mediation that guides the viewer in understanding this image as a clinical, detached view of the contemporary city. The apparatus takes the lead, the interventions of the artist only support what the camera has already established.

So, when I spoke earlier of turning the city into an abstraction, I need to stress that abstraction in photography does not really exist. Or, rather, that abstraction is not a side-effect of a certain use of photography, but that it is inherent in photography itself. No matter what the camera captures, the result is always an abstraction of reality. But, the other way around is also true: a photographic image is never purely abstract. Even when working with light, the result is not pure abstraction. It still remains a depiction of light, or to be more precise, a depiction of the dialogue between the properties of light and the chemical (or algorithmic) properties of the photographic system itself.

Photography always operates on the uneasy borderline between the abstract and the real: it is less real than many people believe, and it is more abstract than most would admit.
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