Heavily associated with the New Objectivity movement, the artist Albert Renger-Patzsch published his work Gestein in 1966; a book of sixty-two detailed, precise and faithful photographs of rocks that held the truthfulness of the medium as it’s paramount characteristic. Over fifty years on, between 2010 and 2018, Ulrich Gebert produced his own series of sixty-two rock photographs titled Gestalt, which draws on Renger-Patzsch’s work of historical importance as both a point of departure and a continuous stream of reference.
Gebert offers us a contemporary reading on rocks in a broad conversation on their function in modernity, updating the dialogue on objects that are increasingly tied to the constructed nature of the present. In Gestalt – which translates to the English “shape” – Gebert acknowledges today’s physical spaces, where the rocks photographed act as micro-indicators of macro-structures. Found in amusement parks, zoos, residential gardens and other miscellaneous urban areas, strange groupings of man-made rocks stand in as metaphor for our trajectory towards an increasingly artificial society.
Although these structures play a seemingly minor role within the wider context of constructed landscapes, they here emerge as an appropriate case study of how the artificial often attempts to disguise itself as being of natural origin. Critically, Gebert doesn’t shy away from this – he instead embraces them as visual objects in their own right, revelling in their failure to perform perfect mimicry.
Aesthetically, Gebert’s work retains a clear sense of proximity to Renger-Patzsch’s Gestein; his decision to abstain from photographing in colour underlines this reference, and in a photographic sense, further highlights the rocks’ sculptural forms. Equally, the approach establishes a playful duality between the seriousness of Gebert’s chosen photographic language and the almost humorous absurdity of his subject matter, man-made rocks.
Where Renger-Patzsch’s work was characterised by a faithfulness to both the medium and to the world in front of the lens, Gebert employs the same visual discourse whilst moving in a new conceptual direction away from the real. Where landforms used to be firmly rooted in nature, they now occupy a new commonplace in a fabricated world.