Hear Expert Commentary
Speaker: Eric Lutz
Associate Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs
Saint Louis Art Museum
Hello, this is Eric Lutz, associate curator of prints, drawings, and photographs. We are looking here at the large-scale photograph by the contemporary artist Beate Gütschow entitled LS #17. Gütschow composes what looks like a panoramic view of a northern European countryside, very reminiscent of Dutch 17th-century paintings. A low, flat horizon is dominated by a vast sky, and lounging figures by a river are enjoying the scenery. Yet what we are seeing is not a window onto an actual place but a meticulous simulation. The artifice is apparent only after sustained and close viewing. For example, the shadows do not match up throughout the image, and there are elements that are disruptive to a harmony of the overall scene, such as patches of dirt, discarded shipping palettes, and the oddly small scale of the main tree.
Gütschow used advanced visual software—digitally stitching the image together from dozens of different negatives that she had taken on her travels. Rather unexpectedly, the sources for the individual elements in this composition are far from the natural environment it suggests. She chose to photograph in urban centers, public parks, even construction sites, recombining the elements to appear as if we are looking at untouched wilderness. Further, she includes city dwellers—people engaged in mundane urban activities. Indeed, many of the figures in LS #17 look disconnected from or awkwardly situated within the bucolic countryside.
All of these subtle inconsistencies reveal the traces of Gütschow’s process for constructing her picture. She even goes so far as to engage the margins around the image by including the registration marks and the printing information from the large-format printer she uses. Gütschow revels in this push and pull between the believability of the illusion and the artifice of its construction.