the romance of
the industrial park
by Pat Padua
I love it when a photographer - or a writer, or any artist
- takes banal subject matter and makes it interesting. Ansel Adams may
be a great technician, but he leaves me cold because I figure, everybody
knows nature is beautiful - what I get off on is something like William
Eggleston's flash photo of old shoes underneath his bed, or of an open
refrigerator freezer door, fresh views of things you normally would
not think twice or maybe even once about.
went the Andreas Gursky show at the Moma. His most famous image is "99
cents," reproduced across two full pages in a New Yorker
write-up in March. The view was simply of row after row after aisle
after aisle of product- candy, cereal, lawn chairs - 99 cent store crap.
It was gorgeous - the colors and patterns repeating and reflected off
the mirrored ceiling and the mirrors in the back of the store, the random
customers sprinkled here and there. I can imagine an alien art connoissseur
coming across the image and, not recognizing any of the products, maybe
not even the life forms, getting off on the color and wondering what
reason there was for the shifting patterns.
picture I didn't really get at first was of two corporate warehouses:
Toys-R-Us and Toyota, behind a wide stretch of highway. A guide talked
about the banality and universality of the image. New Yorkers who see
it think they know exactly where it is in New Jersey. But the picture
was taken in Germany. Subject matter aside, the composition can be divided
up into the horizontal bands Gursky likes to use: asphalt, white lines,
green shoulder; broken by two warehouses with vertical corrugated white
walls; topped by a grid of telephone wire criss-crossing in the air
- lines broken by red buoys that served to warn low-flying aircraft.
Aoyama's film EUREKA is a perfect companion piece to the Gursky
exhibit. There isn't much of a plot. The first half hour sets up the
remaining three hours: a bus is highjacked by a normal-looking businessman;
a young boy and girl and an unrelated man (Shall We Dance's Koji
Yakusho) are the only surviors. Two years later the man seeks out the
kids. None of them has adjusted very well to life after trauma; the
children's father died in a car accident soon after the hijacking; one
day their mother took off for another man, leaving them in charge of
the whole house and letting it go to shambles.
was filmed on color stock that was faded down to near-sepia, although
in evening shots and when the camera fades-to-black you can see dark
greens of foliage barely emerge. Much of the movie is shot in what looks
like a faceless Japanese suburbia that could as easily be New Jersey
or Germany. The pace is so slow - you have to really be in the mood
for it - maybe that's why I started to see the compositions in light
of Gursky - horizontal road dividing the black and white frame into
abstract bands of texture. The somber, quiet pace of the movie lets
you hear things you ordinarily would take for granted: water trickles
and metal scrapes as a man scrubs a shovel after a hard day's work,
stocking footsteps fall lightly on a wooden floor.
musical score, by Aoyama and Isao Yamada, is gorgeous too, with a simple
piano and guitar theme that, like many of the film's grace notes, takes
its time to appear. At the end of a long night, the stock returns to
color for a final shot of the countryside, and the theme is played with
full orchestra. I can't say it wasn't a chore to sit through, but by
the end I was totally under its spell.
©2001 Pat Padua