How it is
HOW IT IS
What if the city is silent? Most urbanites know, consciously or unconsciously, that waking moment when dawn breaks and the city is still asleep, before sound returns. How many films have thrived on the din of the garbage men clanking bins in a Parisian or Manhattan morning. The sound they introduce to mark the beginning of the day is the aural equivalent of movement. Sound in a city is motion. So silence is the absence of movement. When people do not move and are merely present, they easily get overlooked. Rarely, however, does someone attempt to capture that lack of motion. Images that seek to represent night or day, specifically in the tradition of street photography, have conventionally sought out movement. The pictures created by the likes of Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlaender tend to depict motion, the sounds jump out at you. Later protagonists working in a similar vein tried to create images of sound, of club life, of pulsation, of music. In the process, the presence of absence, of standstill, got somewhat forgotten. Still lifes were floral arrangements or sides of meat in a shop window, not a city in its entirety.
Anselm Adams once quipped “When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.” Today, I would suggest, the challenge is actually the other way round: Images are adequate when they pinpoint that silence, cropping it of anything associated with the white noise of urbanity. So how to represent a city let alone a megacity as silent, during the day? How to represent a city bereft of motion, as if it were a wheat field on a day when there is no wind, and do so not nostalgically or sentimentally. Why has this not been a preoccupation of photographers? After all, there is something about finding silence in cities and in objects, in people even: It preserves their dignity. Such images desist from yelling at you: “Look at me”: They simply are,; they blend phenomenology and photography.
This, I would propose, is what Ingmar Kurth sets out to achieve when walking through modern life. And achieve it he does. On can surmise that he walks slowly, a form of walking that somehow eschews motion. And when he photographs something he does so by relying on simple geometries that otherwise elude the eye in the bustle of everyday life. His eye discerns the lines, bifurcations, and above all triangles structure the urban world in an unassuming way. In fact, one could be forgiven thinking that judging by his work, cities are places where triangles await us at every corner. The geometries he detects likewise divide shadow from light, sky from earth, history from the present. And the lines separate shadows of day from the sounds of day, give structure to an otherwise amorphous cacophony that is the city.
How it is? Silent. Or, as David Bowie once famously put it when exploring the difference between the silence inside and the world outside: “Drifting into my solitude, over my head. Don't you wonder sometimes. 'Bout sound and vision.”