Los Angeles

Florian Maier-Aichen

In his recent exhibition at Blum & Poe (an identical set of works was shown almost simultaneously at 303 Gallery in New York), German-born photographer Florian Maier-Aichen brought a painter’s and draftsman’s eye to the practice of photography. While many photographers are still technical purists, Maier-Aichen marshals a refreshing diversity of approaches. To make Untitled (all works 2005), for example, he used a computer to draw a version of an existing photograph, making a new image in which one of two smokestacks is shown falling, almost striking the second. The only original element left unmanipulated is the view of the sky. Tacitly acknowledging the course of German photography since Bernd and Hilla Becher, the artist also engineers a critical extension of that lineage. In particular, he further questions the established tradition of landscape as subject.

In 20th Century Fox, Maier-Aichen again used a computer to draft a new image based on a low-resolution original taken from an old video recording, adding detail to the sky and the monument pictured in the famous logo. The end result looks less like a photograph than a weathered print, drawing, or propaganda poster from the studio’s 1930s heyday. Here, as in Untitled, the artist implies that we have a responsibility to continually question the authority and authenticity of images, whatever their source. Above June Lake pictures a mountainous site in California that resembles a piece of exotic coral. Its unexpectedly fiery hues result from the use of a special kind of infrared film that turns greens to reds. At first glance the image looks like an enlarged detail of a shell or stone, but soon the turquoise lake, winding roads, and white ski trails ease into focus and we realize that it’s a topographical aerial view. The photograph encompasses such a large area it almost seems impossible that a single lens and a single shot could have captured it all (Maier-Aichen did, in fact, use multiple negatives).

Another wide-angle shot, this one taken from California’s Mount Williamson, looks toward the desert and the outskirts of Palmdale and Lancaster. The artist removed a large mountain, which blocked part of the view, from his image, and created a new set of roads and fields in the foreground. The urban lights look hazy, as if in motion, and seem to get brighter the closer they are to the horizon. It is as if we are observing a distant frenzy of activity from a remote viewpoint shrouded in darkness and obscurity, but the nightscape is artificial, a view that has never existed.

The smallest photograph in the show, a study of Mount Baldy, California, depicts a snow scene in incongruous shades of deep green. Of all the works here, this has the most painterly look—snow falling past a lamppost in the foreground evokes an illustration from The Chronicles of Narnia (1950–1956), while a small shadowed cabin in the background adds to the dreamlike atmosphere.

We all know that photographic images are routinely altered, and have thus long since lost any primal claim to veracity, but part of us still wants to believe. By orchestrating a disorientating synthetic beauty, Maier-Aichen exploits this lingering credulity and encourages us to peer deeper into images, and thereby also into ourselves.

Amra Brooks