Joachim Brohm’s exhibition Places & Edges – the artist’s first solo show in the UK – is currently on display at Brancolini Grimaldi in London. It brings together three bodies of work that highlight Brohm’s propensity towards peripheral and quotidian spaces. The works also display a marked shift away from ‘German’ photography most commonly associated with former students of the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. Here, instead, the viewer is drawn to seemingly banal views of the everyday, visually characterized by modesty and even restraint. The photographer does not assume the grand role of auteur, but rather, he acts as a quiet observer, standing at the sidelines of a world waiting to be photographed.
The first project Culatra, photographed from 2008 to 2010, brings the viewer to a small island off the coast of Portugal. The physical location of the island on the very periphery of Europe confirms Brohm’s ongoing interest in marginal spaces. Culatra is also characterized by economic marginality as Brohm’s camera depicts the islanders’ weather-beaten shacks – the sand beneath them has the effect of stretching and bending their structures. Brohm emphasizes this topsy-turvy environment, perhaps reminiscent of the recent film Beasts of the Southern Wild, by incorporating crooked telephone poles, lampposts, wires and cables throughout many of the works. Despite the potential messiness of Culatra, the images appear as if Brohm was keen to create order in this environment by focusing on reoccurring motifs such as tractors abandoned in the sand or objects washed up from the sea.
Brohm is probably best known for his project Ohio which he produced while on a Fulbright scholarship in 1983-84. Based in the town Columbus, Brohm photographed the American Midwest as a dispassionate and non-judgmental observer. Nevertheless, many images allude to a dysfunctional environment: a car burning in the driveway of a middle-class house, the shards of a recently destroyed sign strewn on the sidewalk, or the lack of human presence so common in a culture that is dominated by the automobile. One photograph is in fact taken from the viewpoint of a driver, looking through the windscreen towards a railway crossing. Although the work might reference the romanticism of the road as depicted in Jack Kerouac’s literary works, overall the photographs create an ambiguous and slightly uneasy atmosphere.
The last project, Ruhr, was photographed in the industrial heartland of Germany in the years 1980 to 1983. Here too Brohm is essentially exploring peripheral spaces as he navigates the dividing line between nature and civilization. More specifically, Brohm appears to follow loosely defined groups of individuals who seek to encounter the natural in this heavily industrialized part of the world. The clash between nature and industry is all too apparent in many activities depicted in the works: ice skating beneath a gigantic bridge, sunbathing in the vicinity of industrial buildings, or simply trying to demarcate a plot of land in an otherwise heavily populated area. His matter-of-fact depictions of the everyday are aided by consistently seeking an elevated viewpoint and keeping a respectful distance towards his subjects. As a result, his images also appear unusually timeless: they are less documents of an era than they are a representation man’s struggle to define himself in relation to his neighbour. III Originally published on photomonitor.co.uk.
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