Artist Blog

Every week an artist whose single image was published by Der Greif is given a platform in which to blog about contemporary photography.

Mårten Lange

Jun 10, 2017 - Ben Alper

The great cyberpunk science fiction writer William Gibson once said, “The future has arrived — it’s just not evenly distributed yet.”  Gibson’s quote, which can be traced back to the early 90’s, underscores the global disparity in technological development and access based on wealth and geography.  In the roughly 25 years since he first issued this incisive statement, this divide has only widened.  It no longer requires that vivid an imagination to view the globalized megacities of the world through Gibson’s dystopic lens.  Many of the most prevalent themes in science fiction – surveillance, control, collective consciousness, alienation, simulation, and authoritarianism – are accepted facets of the 21st century.

 

Mårten Lange‘s The Mechanism, recently published by MACK, is an allegory of contemporary life in the urban environment.  Often claustrophobic and isolating, the images that comprise this body of work depict the modern city as an oppressively homogeneous space.  The edifices in these pictures are nearly indistinguishable from another, bound together by a combination of anonymity and geometric severity.  It’s not at all apparent whether these photographs were made in a singular city or a constellation of them.  And that feels like the point. With the exception of a few subtle markers – one billboard depicts a robotic finger touching a human one with Japanese writing on it – there is very little geographic specificity. This is ‘anyplace’, or more aptly ‘no-place’.  It is an archetypal representation of a commercial city in an age of standardization and uniformity.

 

This ubiquitousness is at once reassuring and disquieting.  And while so many of Lange’s images possess an intense stillness, I can’t shake the feeling that there’s a menace stirring somewhere.  This is heightened by the formal language of the photographs themselves. The gaze is flat, distant and unemotional, the cropping tight and rigid. The images feel almost authorless, as if they were taken by an automated surveillance camera rather than a sentient being.  My speculation is that Lange used a telephoto lens to make the majority of these photographs.  Many of them are marked by the compression of space that results from this kind of photographic capture.  The world seen through this kind of lens is a world without depth, life or dimension.

 

When people appear in the images they are dwarfed by the vastness of the urban landscape. There is something actively dehumanizing about the scale shifts that occur between the figures and structures.  In some of the more unsettling images there’s a palpable sense of voyeurism, as if the people pictured exist within an urban art farm, of sorts.  They are observed in their “natural environment”, but are blissfully unaware that they are being watched.  The people in these photographs are not individuals so much as symbolic markers of the dislocation of our technological urban centers.

 

Lange’s vision of urban life is sobering.  The Mechanism casts the modern city as a place of power, control, opacity, alienation and loss of individuality.  The work’s capacity to evoke all of this is its ultimate strength.  It’s like being on the dark side of a one-way mirror and looking out.  Instead of seeing our own reflection, we are afforded a moment to look at and consider some the power hierarchies and measures of control exerted upon us by the contemporary metropolis.  And while they may, like the buildings themselves, remain somewhat impenetrable, taking a step back and examining our relationship to the built environment is a crucial first step.

 

You can pick up a copy of The Mechanism here.