Vera Lutter “Body of Work”
My work is informed by an interest in parallels between the industrial development beginning in the 19th century and the discovery of the chemical process to make a stable photographic image. Progressing simultaneously, both phenomena are responsible for unfathomable change in the way we live and trade information; both currently undergo great changes.
Investigating these parallels, I often found sublime beauty within the destructive power inherent in many industrial accomplishments. Most obviously this can be seen in my images from RheinBraun, Germany where I photographed the equipment used in strip mining. In the name of growth, an entire region was radically and permanently transformed. The mining process erased villages, displaced inhabitants, levelled hills, carved valleys, and destroyed the underground aquifer responsible for all life.
My photographs from Berlin and Battersea Power Station study the change of city landscape due to the introduction of large-scale power plants into the urban environment. Vacant decaying factories like the Nabisco factory in Beacon, New York give testimony to the fact that industrial transformation and migration has been underway for decades.
In earlier images, I photographed vessels of transportation within their industrial environment, including shipyards, airports, and the hangar in which a Zeppelin was constructed. My investigation focused on the monumental, the sublime, and the overbearing appearance and threatening function of these objects. The image of an oil rig nearing completion in a German shipyard is suddenly charged with a reminder of its destructive potential as the Gulf of Mexico is devastated by the worst oil spill in the history of the U.S. My interest in transportation involves globalization, which is part of our life and provides the comforts we expect to live in. Often it destroys regional economies and radically threatens the environment.
A conceptual investigation of the relationship between my process and my subject matter always concerned me. The camera, being a room, an architectural entity, introduces an immediate parallel to the architecture I photograph. The scale of my work gives evidence to both — the medium of reception and the monumentality of the perceived. The void inside the dark interior camera room receives and contains the light, transforming it into a latent image. Unifying method and subject, this function directly relates to that of the emptiness of the vessel awaiting merchandise hence fulfilling its function by shipping it elsewhere.
My work explores the enormous achievements and the destructiveness within the industrial process. While it does not provide the answer to sustainable growth, its very existence suggests contemplation, hoping this may lead to greater respect for the environment.
I am honoured to be nominated for the Prix Pictet, and thank you for your interest.
About the author
1960, Kaiserslautern, Germany
New York, United States
After studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich and receiving a diploma in 1991, I moved to New York and studied at the School of Visual Art’s Photography and Related Media program, where I received an MFA in 1995.
Inspired by the city’s presence, light, and architecture, I began experimenting with photography. In order to capture an immediate and direct imprint of my experience, I decided to turn the room in which I lived into a large pinhole camera—thereby transforming the space that contained my personal experience into the apparatus that would capture an image of it. Through a simple pinhole instead of an optically carved lens, the outside world flooded the interior of the room and projected an inverted image onto the opposite wall. Exposing directly onto wall-size sheets of photographic paper, I achieved large-scale black and white images. Maintaining my concept of directness and least possible alteration, I decided to retain the negative image and refrain from multiplication or reproduction.
New York remains my home since 1993 and a returning subject in my work, yet I soon started working internationally employing the technique of the camera obscura, or pinhole camera, in projects around the world where I photographically rendered architecture, shipyards, airports, and abandoned factories, focusing on industrial sites that pertain to transportation and fabrication.
My images have been exhibited in group and solo shows in many recognized institutions such as the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid; the Centre Pompidou, Paris; Dia: Beacon and Dia: Chelsea, New York; Kunsthalle, Basel; the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
My photographs are in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Neue Galerie New York and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among others. I am represented by the Gagosian Gallery, Galerie Max Hetzler, and Galerie Xippas.
My work has been recognized by many periodicals including Art Forum, ARTNews, Art in America, BOMB, and The New York Times; as well as books including 100 Contemporary Artists (Taschen), The Photograph as Contemporary Art (Thames & Hudson), and Vitamin Ph: New Perspectives in Photography (Phaidon). I had the honour of receiving the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant in 2002, a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in 2001, and the Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (DAAD) Grant in 1993.
Mitch Epstein, American Power, 2003-2008
Christian Als, Kibera - The Shadow City, 2007-2008
Edward Burtynsky, Oil, 1999-2009
Stéphane Couturier, Melting Point, 2005
Chris Jordan, Midway: Message from the Gyre, 2009-2010
Yeondoo Jung, Evergreen Tower, 2001
Vera Lutter, Body of Work, 1997-2006
Nyaba Leon Ouedraogo, The Hell of Copper, 2008
Taryn Simon, An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar, 2004-2007
Thomas Struth, Paradise, 1998-2006
Guy Tillim, Petros Village, 2006
Michael Wolf, Architecture of Density, 2005-2009