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"Florian Maier-Aichen: Bornemisza: Within the Context of PHotoEspana, International Festival of Photography and Visual Arts"
2008-06-03 until 2008-07-24
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza
Madrid, , ES Spain

The most recent work of the German photographer Florian Maier-Aichen is the subject of an exhibition to be presented by the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza within the context of the XI edition of PHotoEspaña, the International Festival of Photography and Visual Arts. From 3 June to 27 July visitors can see 16 large-format photographs depicting natural and urban landscapes. Florian Maier-Aichen makes use of an unusual palette and frequently daring viewpoints to achieve a sensation of unreality, while his works are also noted for the emphatic contrast between his black and white images and the saturated tones of his colour photographs

Florian Maier-Aichen (born Stuttgart 1973) began his studies in Essen (Germany) then continued his artistic training in Los Angeles where he produced some of his most celebrated images of the Californian coastline, many of them aerial views. Taking a highly individual approach, the artist uses methods derived from documentary photography to create images redolent of the Sublime. They combine the classical heritage of landscape with a notably contemporary vision characterised by a distancing of the viewpoints and a use of technical procedures that manipulate the image, with the photographs retouched using new image treatments. Maier-Aichen’s photographs of the California coastline, the Alps and other locations are extremely beautiful due to their saturated colours and panoramic viewpoints, simultaneously conveying a subtle sense of unease.

Maier-Aichen’s career was initially marked by its reaction to the strict codes laid down by one of the most influential trends within 20th-century photography formulated by the German husband and wife team, Hilla and Bernd Becher. The Bechers focused their interests on photographing industrial architecture in black and white in order to establish a system of building types. For Maier-Aichen, a young photographer working in Germany in the 1990s, this visual language first devised in the 1960s had run its course and he consequently decided to undertake his own researches in order to find approaches that offered him greater flexibility.

Each of Maier-Aichen’s photographs is unique in terms of content, approach and technique. The starting-point is always a traditional photograph using an analogue camera, printed as a gelatine silver print or an albumen print and developed using traditional 19th-century methods. The procedure also, however, involves a creative process of adjustments and re-touchings in order to achieve the desired image. This manner of composing the image is closer to painting than to photography. In this sense, Maier-Aichen’s influences derive from the early years of photography when the pioneers in this medium overcame technical problems through the use of different methods in order to achieve the desired pictorial results. One such example was Gustave Le Grey (1820-1882), whose photographs of marine views were enormously successful. Le Grey created his images by combining negatives, printing the sea and sky separately then fusing them harmoniously in the final print. Another example is the English photographer Henry Peach Robinson (1830-1901) who based himself on the rules of pictorial composition, starting with a drawing and photographing his models and the background elements separately before combining them in the final image. Peach Robinson’s aim was to create what he called “metaphorical realities”. In his own words: “One can achieve many things and create marvellous images mixing reality and fiction in the image. It is not so necessary to portray reality, as a lifelike image can be achieved by imitating the truth”. Maier-Aichen revives the spirit of Robinson’s photomontages and associates them with the work of the most innovative photographers who worked on the West Coast, particularly in Southern California, such as Wallace Berman and Robert Heinecken. There they found an environment that encouraged experimentation and devoted their activities to exploring the flexibility of photography. As a student in the department of photography at the University of Los Angeles, set up by Heinecken in the early 1960s, Maier-Aichen continued this tradition of experimentation with landscape as his starting-point.

His work as a photographer is also directly related to the history of landscape photography in both Europe and North America, and Maier-Aichen has stated his influences to be the French Bisson brothers who produced coloured photographs of the most inaccessible places in the Alps for tourists in the mid-19th century. The legacy of these “postcards” is evident in Maier-Aichen’s image Untitled (Mont Rose) (2002), on display in the present exhibition. Similarly, the first landscape photographers of the American West, Carleton Watkins and Timothy O’Sullivan, travelled around this region in search of views for a public avid for images that contrasted with their everyday visual experiences. Employed by State agencies in order to promote tourism, their expeditions gave rise to the creation of the National Parks. These pioneers of landscape photography travelled on mules that carried their equipment and portable darkrooms, reaching the most inaccessible places and climbing the highest peaks. Maier-Aichen’s working methods have also taken him to remote places such as mountaintops in a helicopter in order to achieve the most panoramic viewpoints. In Untitled (2005) he depicts the Malibu coast from the air, conveying the contrast between the cold of the ocean and the warmth and unreality of the magenta earth. The result is an almost apocalyptic sense of a scene close to science fiction.

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