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photo-eye Book Reviews: Recollection

Recollection, Photographs by Walter Niedermayr.
Published by Hatje Cantz, 2010.
Reviewed by Daniel W. Coburn
Walter Niedermayr Recollection
Photographs by Walter Niedermayr.
Hatje Cantz, 2010. Hardbound. 144 pp., 100 color illustrations, 11x13-1/2".

An expansive highway interchange dominates the foreground while in the distance giant cranes erect buildings that look like modern casinos. One might assume that this photograph depicts a new development on the fringe of the Las Vegas strip, but this would be a false presumption. Walter Niedermayr's photographs describe the social and political landscape of Iran by examining the architecture of its towns and urban centers. Building aesthetics and political agendas are intertwined as the ancient architectural motifs which once dominated the cityscape of Tehran are dwarfed by expansive apartment complexes, hotels and office buildings constructed in a Western style. Recollection presents these expansive panoramas and sweeping views as a series of single images, diptychs and triptychs.

Niedermayr has developed an anti-aesthetic approach to characterizing these places. Each photograph is intentionally over exposed leaving white skies and high contrast images that emphasize texture and detail. The limited tonal range and slight exaggeration of color seems consistent throughout this collection of images. In fact, this approach to image-making has become the trademark of Neidermayr's photographic style as seen in previous monographs such as Reservate Des Augenblicks: Momentary Resorts. While the formal qualities of Niedermayr's work make it easily identifiable, his purposeful rejection of the fundamentals of image-making make it difficult to understand the artist's intentions. The role of the photographer is unclear as Neidermayr straddles the gray line that separates documentary photography from fine art imagery.

Recollection, by Walter Niedermayr. Published by Hatje Cantz, 2010.
 The success of Niedermayr's photographs rely heavily on the juxtaposition of the traditional and contemporary. An image of the capital city with a skyline dominated by modern western-style architecture precedes an image depicting a series of traditional Iranian mosques in various states of disrepair. A group of tourists are shown with cameras and camcorders touring the ancient ruins of Naqsh-e Rostam near Persepolis. Imam Square, home of the great Shah Mosque, at the center of Isfahan seems much less exotic and wondrous when photographed behind a popular thoroughfare congested with heavy traffic.

Recollection, by Walter Niedermayr. Published by Hatje Cantz, 2010.
Two introductory essays describe the events leading to the Iranian Revolution and detail the political climate that prevailed afterwards. These texts supply the necessary framework for understanding the importance of Niedermayr's work. Amir Hassan Chehelten provides the historical context for the imagery while Lars Mextorf elaborates on the complex relationship between Iran and the United States in an effort to better understand the political undercurrents that promote the use of western designs in modern Iranian architecture.

Recollection, by Walter Niedermayr. Published by Hatje Cantz, 2010.
 The book itself is well crafted, including an impressive number of photographs which are often designed as extended panoramas that fold out of the interior. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in a visual exploration of Iranian architecture or its reflection on Iran's political relationship with the Western world.—Daniel W. Coburn

Daniel W. Coburn is a contemporary photographer whose visually arresting images have garnered national and international praise. Selections from his body of work have been featured in prestigious exhibitions, including Top 40 at the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art and the National Competition at SOHO Photo Gallery in New York. His photographic works are held in the permanent collections of the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art, the Mariana Kistler-Beach Museum of Art, the Mulvane Museum of Art and the Moraine Park Museum. Daniel has published two monographs of his work: Between Earth and Sky and Rediscovering Paradise. His most recent body of work, OBJECT:AFFECTION, represents a photographic study on the process of self-objectification. Coburn received his BFA with an emphasis in photography from Washburn University and is currently studying photography as a graduate student at the University of New Mexico.