From XL to xs
There’s no spectacular movie scenery in Marc Räder’s colour landscape photographs of California. The Berlin-based photographer has chosen views which range from the natural (a lush forest) to the man-made (a metal bridge), from the urban (a parking lot) to the suburban (a sprawling housing development). Yet whatever the view, each one is marked by tunnel vision. Far from manipulating the images, Räder uses a large-scale architectural camera, which creates a zone in each photograph where the objects and the subjects remain in focus, regardless of their actual position in the landscape. Räder’s photographs are both sharp and blurry, like the popular studio portraits where the face is encircled by a hazy halo. But instead of being transported to a nostalgic familiar past, the viewer becomes a kind of Gulliver, peering through a keyhole at the land of Lilliput. Each California landscape, although resolutely real, looks like an architectural model, if not a child’s toy.
Most landscape photography offers a view from afar, which positions the viewer without giving him a sense of the size of his own body. Yet Räder’s landscape photographs – in and out of focus – play more explicitly with notions of human scale in a way that recalls the effects of sculpture and installation on the viewer’s perceptions of size and self. We measure ourselves against Räder’s views of California and end up experiencing them as miniature, and ourselves as gigantic. Is that little car real? Are those tree-tops bits of sponge? Are those toy people? The closer we come to look – the more intensely we examine each photograph – the more real the scenes become. Indeed, the car, the trees and the people turn out to be as real as our gazing selves. Nothing has been manipulated. In that moment of close inspection, the figures frozen in the photograph briefly, magically come to life as the inhabitants of Lilliput, living somewhere in California.
That moment – when the gaze alone can animate the inanimate – recalls the uncanny experience of the automaton. Think of the film Blade Runner (1982), when Deckard inspects the replicant Pris dressed up as a life-size doll, only to have her suddenly spring into action. While Räder’s figurines never quite come to life – and never attack – their diminuitive size transforms every viewer into a giant who could never inhabit their world without causing mass destruction. Gulliver’s feet are large enough to crush Lilliput with but one step. While anthropocentric, Räder’s landscapes offer a sense of containment and exclusion. The outside comes to look like a mini-interior; even the beach has the feel of a dollhouse which might be packed up and carried to a new location. While we might fit these landscapes into our hands, we could never inhabit them, except with our gaze.
Of course, that’s the goal of all photography: to transform life into endless images which can be experienced only by the gaze. Räder’s colour landscape photographs confront us with the legacy of the medium: We look at the world as giants who can never quite fit into the picture.