Robert Alter : La Defense

Robert Alter

La Defense Series #15, 2004
archival inkjet print
38 x 38 inches

New England Currents at the Danforth Museum

March 4, 2009 — May 3, 2009

Opening Reception Saturday, March 7, 6 - 8 pm
Gallery Talk
Wednesday, March 11, noon
Lecture A History of the Photography of Paris, Sunday, March 29, 3 pm

Artist Statement

The La Defense Photographs by Robert Alter

LaDefense is an office development that is situated on the Western edge of the city of Paris, France. Because Paris strictly regulates the height of structures within that historic city, if you want to build a skyscraper you have to put it just outside the city limits.  LaDefense is a sprawling development of corporate office towers, shopping malls, and apartment houses. It is also home to the Grand Arch of LaDefense, a towering white cube which is part monument and part office building.

I first became interested in LaDefense after reading about it in  guide books. The place sounded odd and out of place in the context of the beautiful city it borders. Upon exiting the subway station, I found myself in a strange landscape of gigantic boxes; some being build and some looking run down. I was fascinated by this seemingly uncontrolled collection of massive building blocks randomly scattered by an unseen giant.

The photographs have been taken over the past six years and are my exploration into this somewhat confusing and intimidating oversized world. The photographs depict the Grand Arch of la Defense, the office buildings that surround it, and also examine the relationship to the natural world in the form of plantings placed around the buildings.

I photograph with a medium format film camera, for maximum flexibility and image quality.  The film negatives are then scanned and I make large-scale ink jet prints. The prints themselves create a purposeful contradiction of surface and feeling.    The print is on cotton rag paper or canvas.  It has softness, a touch, and a texture.  The archival ink resides on and in the surface.  Yet the subject matter is glass, concrete and stone polished to a smooth hard surface.

The photographs subtly jar the viewer by presenting the familiar with the unfamiliar at the same time.  “I've seen those buildings a thousand times, but I have never seen them that way before,” is a reaction I have heard about the photographs. “I’ll never again look at that building the same way.” There is an element of the sociologist in me who records his or her subject in great detail in order to understand it in all its complexity.

My images disregard the rules of photography. In architectural photography, the photographer must never tilt the camera at an extreme angle, if you do; the lines of perspective are tilted and skewed. The resulting image would display distorted lines and displeasing foreshortening effects. I chose to allow this to happen and the images begin to resemble an abstract painting.  The photographs are documents of a work of architecture and a particular place, but they are also formal exercises in arranging line, form and color.  The photographs are also a commentary on the global phenomena of massive corporate office development, no city worth its salt is without a pile of glass/steel/stone towers. My photographs are not condemnations or political statements.  They are visual interpretations of the awe and diminution that we humans feel in the presence of these giants.

The La Defense Portfolios are for me a way to observe and try to understand the corporate and commercial world that we are building for ourselves and that we must inhabit.

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