Velocity the in-flight magazine for VLM Airlines

February 2006

A hundred years ago photography was in its infancy, a revolutionary and controversial technology. At the start of a new century the now well-established medium is undergoing another revolution, with digitally produced images altering the way we think about the pictures we encounter on a daily basis. It was within these conditions that international curator William A Ewing decided to ask where photography is going in the future, with his new book reGeneration Relaxing at his family home in Switzerland, Ewing throws his own premise into question by asking: “But how can you look ahead? It would be foolish for anyone to say that in 20 years the word photography won’t exist. None of that has any bearing on reality.” Instead he has opted to source work from 50 young photographers who are likely to mature into respected artists over the next 20 years. “If you take any artist today who is established and look back in their lives, you’re going to see a consistency there – you can see the seeds of what an artist will become later on. It gives us a kind of vision of the future.

The resulting images have surprised many in the artistic community. “The burial of black and white photography struck a lot of people in my field. Other curators and experts have looked at it and said 'Wow, that’s really gone! We knew that we were moving towards colour, but boom! That’s it.’ There’s also a lot of irony in this generation. They step back and see photography as almost an artificial language – and they question it. So you’re often not quite sure what you’re looking at. You’re always asking: is this real? Is this fabricated?” For all the fabrication, though, Ewing is adamant that the photographers never use digital manipulation for the sake of it. “They use computers selectively. They tend to work more as artists than traditional photographers. They will develop an idea on paper and sketch it out, then they’ll go out and execute the idea.

 “This is a big jump from photography which, for many years, has been essentially about spontaneity and grabbing ephemeral moments. Photographers believed for years that a chance fraction of a second could tell you more about life than anything else. So you wander the streets of New York or London, you wait for something to happen and snap, you get it. These guys don’t really believe that. They believe that you wander the city and store up impressions. Then your mind develops a kind of image that you execute, and that’s very different.”

Germany, b.1966

These pictures start out as being real places – he doesn’t invent them – and he simply erases the signs of the specific sites. So if there’s advertising or a sign or whatever, he just takes that out with the Photoshop programme. First of all, it’s a kind of reference to the banality of our environments – more and more places look like this. You know, when you flash by on the motorway or on a train in Europe, you see these kinds of things, these structures, and you never know quite what they are. The fact is that he turns these buildings into great sculptures. I think what he does by neutralising them like that, by cleaning them up, is he shows you that this really is the sculpture of the modern age. Everything’s real, it’s just homogenised and clarified so you don’t see detail. It’s all just forms and colours.

Germany/Canada, b.1978

He’s German-born but he’s also Canadian and he did his work in Japan. I think that’s really interesting because it shows that he, like many others in reGeneration, moves around a lot. They’re no longer interested in just their own little territory. A lot of the pictures seem like cages or enclosed spaces. They’ve got this distance from nature. Nature is something outside the cage, perhaps a little dangerous. He makes these people seem like birds – rare birds, exotic birds – and he’s a kind of an anthropologist. But they’re beautifully composed. There’s one where there’s a man photographing and his body’s twisted – it’s almost balletic. So they’re not satirical pictures, they’re quite tender in a way, they’re very respectful.

England, b.1978

She’s dealing with the very personal issue of the weight of tradition. You can hear her mother telling her to go and marry a nice Jewish boy and so she’s turning that on its head. She has selected these nice Jewish boys, but there’s something there in the body language. She could easily have sat down beside them, but she is in and out of the picture at the same time. The guy who is the subject looks a bit uncomfortable, not really sure what he’s doing there, not even really sure he’s ready for this, so you find this sense of discomfort. And she is also very exposed. She’s not being coquettish, she’s not flirting or smiling, she’s just saying “this is what my tradition is pushing me into”, and so you get that alienation.

Netherlands, b.1978

She is cruel, but with a note of tenderness. What I find very amusing are the shoes. There’s the young guy with his big shoes coming out from under the desk and you can be sure he’s not aware of that. He doesn’t even know that his shoes are in the photograph, but it’s the shoes that make the image. She could easily have focused on the faces and we’d have been none the wiser, but she didn’t. Her interest is in the signs and the language that these lawyers are using to reassure their clients. There’s one guy who is so far in the corner that his secretary must have pushed him in there and doesn’t let him out until the end of the day. On the one hand it’s a sort of documentation, but on the other hand it’s a type of poetry because she’s not doing it for newspapers or sociologists. She’s doing it because she feels that this helps to explain the world in which we live.

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