“Since the photographic medium has been digitized, a fixed definition of the term photography has become impossible.” – Andreas Gursky

Fine art photographer

Andreas Gursky didn’t become a serious photographer, despite both of his parents being commercial photographers until he entered Kunstakademie on the advice of Thomas Struth. He set up a color darkroom in 1981 with some friends working exclusively in color even though his mentors preferred black and white. His first exhibition Pförtnerbilder, a series of images made in 1981-1985 that showed the ubiquitous pairs of security guards in German office buildings. I was presented in the Düsseldorf Airport in 1987.

The art market was very interested in photography. His mentors helped promote his work and he became a commercial success. He meticulously planned the making of his photographs of buildings, hotels, offices and factories before arriving at their locations. From 1991 through 1993, he made images of Siemens manufacturing plants on an invitation of the company. He juxtaposed people and their environments with the company’s technology.

Bigger prints

Gursky began making large prints in commercial labs in 1988. By the 90s he was using the widest paper available. By 2000 he was combining sheets to make prints larger the 6-by 15 feet. He was working digitally to create panorama like photos by moving his large-format (film) camera to cover an entire building in several shots. He assembled them in the computer to produce seamless work previously impossible to realize.

99 Cent II diptych by Andreas Gursky
99 Cent II diptych by Andreas Gursky, 2001

Unprecedented success

In 2011 one of Gursky’s prints, Rhine II, 1999, became the most expensive photograph auctioned — ever. It sold at Christie’s for $4.3 million dollars. The 61′ 1/4″ by 10′ 1 1/2″ print is one of six made. Three are held in museums while the other three are now in private collections. The size of the print rivals that of paintings on the walls of galleries and museums. This particular image had industrial buildings removed digitally from the background. Rhine II, 1999 is the lead photograph for this edition of On Photography.

Here is a list of his works by year.

Read about other influential photographers in On Photography.

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