Downtown, 2007 courtesy of Erick Rowe.
At first glance, the photographic work of Thomas Demand and Erick Rowe deceptively appear in stark contrast with one another. The Clearing, by Thomas Demand, and Downtown, by Erick Rowe, depicts two disparate landscapes, one of a random, nature scene and the other of linear, urban organization. Upon further inspection, the viewer may begin to uncover subtle parallels between the two works and engage in a dialogue with the landscapes encountered in their own life.
The Clearing, 2003, Thomas Demand courtesy of MoMA.org
Thomas Demand’s Clearing is of monumental size. The format is a long, landscape similar to the widescreen format of movies or television screens. Varying shades of green, yellow and brown overlap each other with the hint of blue peaking in the distance. Demand creates a sense of depth by capturing rich yellow light bouncing off of each individual leaf. Several tree trunks are present, to support the dense lushness of the forest depicted. An immense amount of detail is captured, creating a sort of hyper-real appearance. There is a painterly quality to the image, which begins to set off the idea what is seen is not actually a forest but some sort of constructed image. Indeed, Clearing, is a photograph of a hand-made forest. Demand, along with 30 assistants constructed a steel frame of 50-feet long, by 32-feet high and 18-feet deep to support thousands of paper-cut leaves glued onto cardboard. Demand then lit the subject with an intense light and photographed the sculpture.
The image becomes a landscape for conveying strong emotion, while at the same time calling the viewer to question their perception of what is real in their experience. Using a subject such as a lush, green immediately strikes the viewer as an oasis, a retreat from the banality of their daily routine. The lighting has a fantasy appeal to it. The image becomes quite romantic in this way, a sort of Utopian ideal of nature. Several current events and issues in our society and global economy are brought to meet our desire for experiencing the idealization of nature. What appears simple, becomes a beautifully complex experience.
Erick Rowe’s Downtown is a landscape oriented photographic image. In the gallery, the work is presented with a thick white space on the top and bottom and narrower margins on the sides. The image contains architectural structures in acute details. The repetition of vertical lines creates a sense of activity, whereas an abundance of horizontal lines would convey a sense of peace. The palette is made mostly of shade of grey, white and reflective light. Along the left third of the image is a dark blue structure, highlighted by a strong green line. In the lower left corner, a lamppost taking on the only organic form, with an elegant scoop that is almost reminiscent of a human neck-form. Within the space where the grey structure overlaps the dark blue is an area indicating a refracted light source. The windows contain several reflected colors, lending themselves to creating some sort of context for this isolated landscape. As the viewer notices these organic forms, one begins to come to the awareness the image is more of a construct than a depiction of an agreed upon reality.
The image becomes a glimpse at an orchestrated event of fragmented time and space. The mind continually attempts to grasp what is before it, wanting to create a sense of belief that what the eyes are seeing is real, but the impossible perspectives in the lines of the building, especially within the grey building, are a consistent reminder the building may have been constructed from an architectural form urban dwellers pass-by without much mind, but is not a situation one could seek out to encounter in their own daily life. This leads to inquisition of the very construct of the elements themselves. The jail-like appearance of the repetitive, vertical lines, the juxtaposition of sharp perspectives and the hint at that human element in the left corner are reasonable deductions from the experience of city life. Again, elegant simplicity is met by complex and unanswerable questions.
The underlying similarities between these visibly contrasting images becomes apparent when we begin to examine the elements of the photographs themselves. Demand and Rowe both use elements of realism to construct a photographic image that is both simple and complex, much in the same fashion as the human experience of life. The constructed image becomes a mirror to the human tendency to construct our own unique reality with what and how we choose to see.