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Andreas Gursky, Bahrain I, 2005
Image: Andreas Gursky / VG Bild-Kunst

Master of the monumental

Marc Peschke / kjb
September 26, 2012

The creator of the world's most expensive photos, Andreas Gursky draws a crowd. His secret recipe: combining detailed precision with the big picture. Now, highlights from Gursky's oeuvre are on show in Dusseldorf.


Andreas Gurksy is the priciest photographer in the world and exhibits his work in the most prestigious museums. "Gurskymania" has been a phenomenon for years. His photographs are not just known in insider circles, but draw whole families into the exhibitions - something highly unusual for photography.

Gursky was born in 1955 in Leipzig as the son of a commercial photographer. He studied visual communications in Essen from 1978 to 1981. Then he became a student of the renowned Bernd Becher at the Kunstakademie in Dusseldorf, who at that time had already established a new stylistic approach to photography, together with his wife Hilla.

In the 1990s, a number of Becher's pupils were launching international careers, and Gursky was among them.

Andreas Gursky, Photo: Bernd F. Ahrens
Andreas Gursky views his works from two perspectives: up-close and far awayImage: Bernd F. Ahrens

The distant eye

Shortly after finishing his studies, Gursky's career as a photographer took off. He began with portraits of doormen, and then moved on to architecture, cityscapes, factories, resorts, and landscape stills from the Rhineland region.

Early on, Gursky settled on large-format photos, an austere and distant perspective, precise images and digital processing. He did everything differently from his mentor, Becher.

From the beginning, his pictures have always been somewhere between documented and staged. Gursky bases his images on reality; he takes analog photos with a large-format camera and then rearranges them on his computer.

"I started out just making small changes for compositional reasons," said Gursky. "But in the meantime I've started creating completely new pictures. Many small details come together to make a complex whole."

Andreas Gursky, Qatar, 2012
"Qatar" (2012)Image: Andreas Gursky / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn


Gursky often takes pictures in public places, from boxing matches, demonstrations and techno raves to the stock exchange, soccer stadium or pop concerts. The photographer developed a particular interest in the fetishism surrounding consumer products and captured with his camera the anonymity associated with consumerism.

Usually he refrains from emphasizing a particular detail. His compositions are two-dimensional, with equal significance given to each part. Human beings often disappear in his works - like in one piece, which shows an aerial view of a choreography performed for the North Korean dictator Kim Jong II.

Andreas Gursky, Ocean I, 2010
"Ocean I" (2010)Image: Andreas Gursky / VG Bild-Kunst

Goose bumps

Gursky has been called a "master of the monumental." He photographs huge, colorful apartment complexes, the skyline of metropolises at night, a basket factory in Vietnam, and an American discount shop - but bigger and more powerful than anyone has ever seen them before.

"Gursky gives you goose bumps," summed up Thomas Weski, curator at Munich's Haus der Kunst.

But he does even more than that: He's created a new way of seeing things.

"My pictures are always composed from two sides," said Gursky. "Even the tiniest details are legible. But from a distance, they become one huge symbol." His extraordinarily sharp photos, taken from a distance, often show a perspective people wouldn't normally have.

Throughout his career, Gursky has received uninterrupted acclaim for his work. His masterpiece, "Madonna I," is one of 60 of his works on display through January 13, 2013 at Museum Kunstpalast in Dusseldorf.

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