Gursky currently holds the record for having created the most expensive photograph (auctioned at $4,338,500 US $).
Of course this is by any measure an absurd price for any photograph, but many seems to think that this is a boring or even bad photograph. And knowing that it has been heavenly photoshoped makes it even worse for many.
I liked it right away, and after googling some of his pictures - and even more after seeing the Ben Lewis documentary - I even think that I understand it a little. But can you judge a picture on a web page when it is meant to be seen more than 3 meters long? Yesterday I went to Louisiana together with my brother to see the large Gursky exhibition - time to look for my self.
The Rhein photograph is the first one in the exhibition - Louisiana is clearly not above a little record bashing. It is however at bad choice to have it first; it is a very "distilled" Gursky and it is much better appreciated after having seen the many other photographs in the exhibition.
Most photographs in the exhibition are printed very large and I am pretty sure that not many can see them without been totally impressed and without being drawn into at least some of them.
I think that the most immediately fascinating photographs are the ones with a lot of repeating yet different patterns - like Untitled XIII; Hamm, Bergwerk Ost; and Nha Trang (you can google them your self). These photographs works when being seen in smaller sizes but they knocks you socks off when being seen more than 3 meters high or wide. They work in many different ways. When being see from a distance it is the pattern that fascinates you - because of the large format you can both sense the pattern as something abstract and still quite fast grasp what the motif is. Often there is something disturbing about this first view - even though they clearly are photographs of something real, they have a viewpoint and perspective that is not real at all. This is because most photographs are a collage of several photographs taken from somewhat different places, and this really makes you look at things in a new and fascinating way.
When moving closer - or sometimes it is the main theme - you see that the objects (often persons which are usually more object-like than person-like) are all different. And all are perfect in some sense. This "works" in a way I do not quite understand, but it clearly makes you appreciate the photograph in a different way. I think it is something common about all Gurskys photographs, that they make you very intensely aware that you are looking at something.
Most (but not all) of Gursky photographs have a very architectural element. Something about space and objects. This is in many of the "repeating" photographs but it is the (almost) sole element of some photographs, most purely in Prada II. Now we are getting nearer the Rhein photograph. However one of the fascinating aspects of the Rhein photographs is, that although it is a photograph of something that is spatial, then it also mostly appears as flat areas on the vertical canvas. This again strengthens the sense that you are looking at something and makes you think about what it is that you are looking at. In many photographs this flatness has the very architectural sense, but in some even this is distilled away - like in Bahrain photographs and even more in the Bangkok photographs.
The Rhein photograph is kind of repeating without repeating anything else than sameness. It makes the Rhein an object of water flowing through the cultivated landscape.
There is the extra aspect of the Rhein photograph that it is taken near Düsseldorf. I do not (yet) know that much about the Düsseldorf school of photography, but I have seen and been fascinated by the Bernd and Hiller Becher photographs of industrial structures in repeating patterns. The Rhein photograph of course has some of the same German industrial bleakness as the Becher photographs, but also in many other ways it is clearly in this tradition, yet at the same time is is something much more modern.
The Rhein photograph for me is immediately fascinating and impressive seen in real "life". It is very obviously an archetypical photograph taken by a great artist. Even an artist that is immediately understandable by most. And it is exemplifying the influential Düsseldorf school in a great way. I can not understand the price of this photograph, but I can understand that it is something special!
I bought the exhibition catalog at Louisiana at it is a quite nice hard bound book. The format is big enough that most of the Gursky photographs realy work. The print is OK, although a little to contrasty. Some photographs is printed as spreads, and although this usually is totally destroying for any photograph it is actually OK for some of the Gursky photographs. The repeating patterns work even if a slice in the middle is missing and the large size of the spreads is great for these types of photographs.The text in the book is a total bore - uninformative pseudo-intellectual babbling.