Josef Koudelka: The Making of Landscape
- Neil Cooper
- 7 August 2017
This article is from 2017
Extraordinary exhibition of work by major Magnum photographer
Walking the full length of the Signet Library during this show of complementary photo essays by Czech-born but French-domiciled photographer Josef Koudelka, it initially feels as if you're striding through an airport lounge, that vast and teeming thoroughfare of free movement en route to arrivals and departures. Two rows of glass-topped display cabinets that contain the two displays disrupt the space, acting as both barrier and gateway, each side in opposition and conjoined defiance.
So it goes too for the contents of the cases, two monumental 20-metre-long concertina books with their black and white pages laid out to tell a story of landscapes modified, remodelled and ultimately defiled in the name of progress. The first, Black Triangle (1994), charts how the Czech Republic's once heavily populated Ore mountain region was overwhelmed and gradually devastated by the coal mining industry. The second, Wall (2013), follows the route of the ongoing atrocity of the wall dividing Israel and Palestine.
Like stills from an Antonioni film, where the natural world and the big city industrial dustbin meet, not one person is in view in Koudelka's images. Their mark is everywhere, however, in a fiercely emotive but exquisitely calm display. This is the case whether in the dumped tyres, or the steel constructions impaling the land in Black Triangle, or the city lights at a distance from the incomplete concrete curtain that carves out false borders. The captions that run beneath each image are forensic and understated, their bald facts becoming a kind of minimalist poetry about how communities were destroyed and dispersed by profit and ideology-led social engineering.
In the foyer, Koudelka's preparatory maquettes try out Koudelka's world for size in miniature. Inside, Koudelka has left empty books for visitors to imagine their own worlds on the pages. In an otherwise lonely place, it's something new to build on.
Signet Library, Edinburgh until 27 Aug, free.