8 December 2005 to 12 March 2006
The Canadian Centre for Architecture presents the exhibition Empire, a visual essay by American artist John Gossage on the relationship between architecture and power. Gossage’s photographs of government buildings and monuments in Washington, D.C. are juxtaposed with images of Egypt taken by Hermann Vogel in 1868, exposing the parallel actions of governments, over a century apart, in preserving the past and laying claim to the future.
Empire comprises a set of 38 gelatin silver prints from the CCA collection made by Gossage between 1987 and 1993, and 21 albumen silver prints by Hermann Vogel, on loan from Gossage. The temples and other emblematic structures of Egyptian civilisation photographed by Vogel at the request of the Prussian government inspired Gossage, leading him to reflect on the representation of the architecture of power in his home city, the capital of the United States. Gossage comments, “I photographed the places that government uses to preserve its past and, by implication, lay claim to its current power this is, of course, exactly what Dr. Vogel photographed when he was sent by the Kaiser to Egypt to bring back pictures of a great and ancient civilisation. Vogel’s technique was to go closer than had anyone before him (into the tombs by the light of magnesium flares or revolving mirrors) – whereas I was to push for greater distance.”
While Vogel’s Egypt is constructed of horizons, vistas, and detailed views of the Pharaonic structures, approaching them much as an archaeologist would in order to understand them more fully, Gossage’s Washington is fragmented, distant, and remote. The oblique framing, the variations in scale, the visual obstacles that act as a screen, and the harsh tones of his photographs evoke an atmosphere of watchfulness, even a feeling of discomfort. As in all his works, Gossage does not search to soothe the viewer, but rather to induce an experience of place that extends beyond the field of visual representation.
Empire presents the meeting of two intersecting journeys originating in two very different eras. Each in his own way, Gossage and Vogel have made images of architecture that is seen as a potent tool to transmit the social, cultural, and political values of governments – and on the power of photography to represent them.
Born in New York in 1946, John R. Gossage became interested in photography at an early age, beginning private classes with Lisette Model, Alexey Brodovitch, and Bruce Davidson at the age of 16. Since 1963, he has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions worldwide, and is represented in numerous private and public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., the Sprengel Museum in Hannover, Germany, and the CCA. Books also form a major part of Gossage’s work, and he has designed several publications and artists’ books using his photographs as a point of departure. In 2004 he published Berlin in the Time of the Wall, the result of an extended study of the city over a period of more than 20 years and the production of some 10,000 images. Other volumes, most of which are found in the CCA Collection, include The Romance Industry (2002), Empire (2000), There and Gone (1997), The Things That Animals Care About (1988), Stadt des Schwarz, and LAMF: Three Days in Berlin 1987 (1987). John Gossage lives and works in Washington, D.C.
The German chemist Hermann Wilhelm Vogel (1834–1898) is recognised primarily for his major technical contributions to photography. His important discoveries in photochemistry laid the foundations for the basic processes of colour photography. He is also well known as the teacher of one of the most outstanding figures in American photography, Alfred Stieglitz. In 1860 Vogel became a professor at the Technische Hochschule in Berlin, where he introduced photography as a field of study. He participated in at least two photographic expeditions to Egypt as well as others to Italy and possibly Asia.
The CCA’s partial acquisition of the Empire set in 1999 was followed in 2000 by a generous gift of 23 photographs from the artist. A gift from Lewis Baltz of 5 photographs completed the series. The prints by Hermann Vogel presented in the exhibition have been graciously lent by John Gossage.
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