The people, material goods, raw resources, ideas and even the symbols of 21st Century civilization move at speeds unimaginable to humans just one hundred years ago, whether on the ground, across the sea or through the air. A chief lubricant—money—flows through ‘pipelines’ now at the speed of light, as does the other main lubricant, oil. Automobiles have multiplied human mobility fifty-fold. Planes pick us on one continent and put us down on another, in the same day. However, the marvels of the technology that we use daily are largely invisible, like ‘just-in-time delivery’—until they break down. Photographers revel in the possibilities, working in every conceivable industry to unveil the complexities of our planetary civilization’s intricate moving parts.

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Olivo Barbieri

site specific_MEXICO CITY 11


from series site specific_03 13

Courtesy Yancey Richardson Gallery New York

Barbieri’s twin pictures seem unreal, like brightly coloured drawings submitted as a proposal for an imposing public monument. This sense is heightened by the purposeful suppression of detail on the busy streets below, as the flow of traffic works itself around the imposing obstacle, and by the fact that the towers seem to point in different directions in the two photographs. But the Torres de Satélite are real, and the up/down illusion is purely due to the photographer’s clever aerial positioning to the north and south. Barbieri has made an extensive series of such iconic urban structures around the world: both ‘site’ and ‘sight’ specific.

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Olivo Barbieri

site specific_ISTANBUL 11


from series site specific_03 13

Courtesy Yancey Richardson Gallery New York

Olivo Barbieri has for years been making highly original aerial portraits of the world’s major cities. He does not, however, see himself as a documentarian. Inspired rather by Di Chirico and Man Ray, he has developed a distinct approach which privileges a dreamlike rendering, involving devices which subtly distort perceived reality – a ‘tilt-shift’ technique, and manipulations of colour, including bleaching of certain areas and deregistration. The world has been saturated with post-card views, or commercial advertising images of cities like Istanbul, but with his destabilising technique, Barbieri encourages us to look afresh at the fabulous, deep-rooted human accomplishments that are the world’s greatest cities.

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Mike Kelley

Flughafen Zürich 28 and 16 (Visual Separation)

Eight hours of aircraft movement at Zurich Airport, July 2015


from series Airportraits

Courtesy the artist

Most photographs work to capture what Henri Cartier-Bresson famously called ‘the decisive moment’, and amounts to a fraction of a second. This picture of Zurich Airport was created over the course of eight hours, during which time every aircraft movement was meticulously recorded. The individual images were then stitched together, creating a thrilling sense of a flock of birds – mechanical though they be. For Kelley, it’s a way of dramatically showing the dynamism of the aviation industry. Yet there in the foreground is a placid, age-old practice, one which has been with us for 10,000 years and is generally credited with the rise of civilisation: agriculture.

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Alejandro Cartagena

from the top

Carpoolers #1
Carpoolers #10
Carpoolers #53


from series Carpoolers

Courtesy the artist and Kopeikin Gallery

Carpooling normally refers to middle-class suburbanites, rationalizing their commutes to work. Alejandro Cartagena’s use of the term is ironic, referring instead to the rough rides taken by workers in Mexico, whose personal finances do not allow for anything remotely comfortable, or for whom public transportation is not an option. The photographer has chosen a brilliant vantage point: a bridge over the highway, necessitating quick reflexes. But this is no game for Cartagena: the context in which he wishes his work to be seen and understood is the struggle for daily existence these workers face, one of uncertainty and paltry rewards.

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Alex MacLean

Shipping Containers, Portsmouth, VA


Courtesy the artist

MacLean is a pilot, never tiring of the wonders of human civilisation that are revealed from the air. His view of massed containers – shot on the diagonal to convey a sense of movement, perhaps even of instability – obviously speaks of the transport of goods but also represents the coming together of a host of technologies. For millennia, transport was unstandardised. The standardised container – stackable, easy to load and unload, secure, deliverable by sea, truck and rail – has had nothing less than a revolutionary effect on commerce world-wide, with many claiming that containers have been the single largest driver in globalisation over the last sixty years.

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Lee Friedlander

from left to right

“Fort Davis, 2006
Las Vegas, 2002
Montana, 2008″


from series America by Car

Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

For millennia, mankind moved at a human pace, on average 800 metres per hour. On horseback, we managed to increase our speed, a revolutionary step in societal evolution. Today, the family car typically boasts 170 horsepower – which we take for granted, as we do the phenomenal freedom of auto-motion. And yet, once we’re inside these machines, looking out, they become largely invisible to us. Friedlander redresses the balance. Travelling across the United States, he records the sights that capture his imagination within the artificial frame of the car window. Is this not how many people today encounter much of the world?

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Concrete Euphoria, Bangkok from the Baiyoke


from series Concrete Europhoria

Courtesy the artist

Mintio’s Concrete Euphoria explores the spirit, or the feeling, of the ever-changing megacities of Asia. Creating entirely within the camera (no digital imaging was involved), Mintio works exposures of four and eight pictures within a single frame, each exposure varying in length from seconds to months. Mintio thinks of the kaleidoscope-like final print as a kind of ‘map’ – equal parts wonder/ dream (the euphoria) and fact/reality (the concrete). The city, she reminds us, as did author Italo Calvino in his book Invisible Cities, is first and foremost a real thing, but that reality first had to spring from the human imagination.

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Paolo Woods and Gabriele Galimberti

from left to right

Mr. Neil M. Smith is the British Virgin Islands’ Finance Secretary, photographed here in his office in Road Town, Tortola. The BVI is one of the world’s most important offshore financial service centers and the world leader for incorporating companies. There are more then 800,000 companies based in the BVIs but only 28,000 inhabitants. The BVIs are the second-biggest direct investors in China, just after Hong Kong. British Virgin Islands

An employee of “Jetpack Cayman” demonstrates this new watersport, now available on the island. A 2000cc motor pumps water up through the Jetpack, propelling the client out of the sea (359 USD for a 30-minute session). Mike Thalasinos, the owner of the company, remarks, “The Jetpack is zero gravity, the Cayman are zero taxes, we are in the right place!” Grand Cayman


from series The Heavens

Courtesy the artists

Galimberti and Woods took on a most difficult subject when they decided to photograph the flow of money. For the most part, and ever more so, transactions are invisible, unless one decides to photograph a computer screen.

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Vincent Fournier

Tokyo Storm Sewer System #1, [Saitama], Japan


from series Tour operator

Courtesy the artist

Like many other photographers in Civilization, Fournier is a versatile and wide-ranging artist. It takes a curious mind to descend below street level – in this case into the cathedral-like caverns of one great city’s extraordinary sewer system. He demonstrates the intricate complexity by showing us two forking routes, but how does he convey scale? With an old trick that photographers have been using since the earliest days of photography, when they would have someone (often the photographers’ assistants) pose in the picture.

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Andreas Gefeller

Poles 31


from series The Japan Series

Courtesy Thomas Rehbein Galerie

Located in Seoul, South Korea, the remarkable office tower GT Tower East was designed by the Dutch architectural firm ArchitectenConsort, based in Rotterdam. With its elegantly undulating glass facade, the new high-rise brings a clear challenge to the angular architecture of the Korean capital. We are likely to see many new forms of architecture in the twenty-first century. Built space expresses a society’s material and political priorities. By documenting structures of prosperity in a technically highly developed society, Gefeller aims to offer a telling glimpse of the present impasse in finding habitation for everyone worldwide while also preserving the planet.

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Jo Choonman



from series INDUSTRY KOREA

Courtesy the artist

Fortress taking shape? According to one magazine, “a potential harbinger of big changes in the Arctic, if not the whole planet”. Goliat, shown here under construction in South Korea, has since made its way half-way around the planet, a 15,000 miles journey to the waters off Norway, becoming the world’s northernmost floating oil platform. At a height of 60 stories (higher by far than any earth-based building in Norway!), its pumps bring up 100,000 barrels a day. Goliat’s owners envision a chain of Goliats at the top of the world, sucking deep drafts of Arctic oil, as global warming continues to melt the region.

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Victoria Sambunaris

Untitled (Pipes), Monahans, Texas


Courtesy the artist and Yancey Richardson, New York

Sambunaris applies the term ‘social geography’ to her own work, isolating images of the natural world with its superimposition of the relentless grid of human intervention. The myth of America and particularly its western landscape largely underwrote the ideas of freedom and frontier independence found in much national political rhetoric – the basis of much popular cultural imagery. Sambunaris believes that today these same landscapes are deeply inscribed with interventions contradicting those mythologies, and, in their place, she presents a clear-eyed vision, sometimes sublime and sometimes negative. She proposes a critical mindset, appreciative of both aesthetic and political dimensions.

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Henrik Spohler

from the top

The Third Day, Cultivation and measurement of corn plants, German research institute

The Third Day, Tomato plantation in Middenmeer, the Netherlands

non datate

from series The Third Day

Courtesy the artist

For Spohler, humans adapt growth and proliferation to their needs, transforming them industrially. We irrigate deserts, grow fruit and vegetables under kilometres of plastic and, increasingly with the help of genetic engineering, we tinker with creation itself. Vegetables line up in rank and file in huge monocultures; even the division of day from night has long since been suspended – such that a ‘Paradise of plenty’ can

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Dan Holdsworth

A Machine for Living 01


from series A Machine for living

Courtesy the artist and Tate Collection

One wonders if Dan Holdsworth’s ‘machine for living’ was made on Mars, or if not, is a work of his imagination. It is not, of course. Those odd and erie colours have to do with exposure times, erasing all vehicular traffic and human presence – not that you’d expect to see an actual human being walking on those sleek thoroughfares or across the acres of stacked concrete parking lots, ‘nature’ having been first removed and then re-added to conform to a regimented aesthetics. Does it matter where this urban machine is? Frankfurt or Dallas or Singapore? We recognize it simply as somewhere nearby. It shall remain nameless.

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Jeffrey Milstein

Newark 8 Terminal B, Newark, NJ


from series Airports

Courtesy the artist

Pilot-turned-photographer Milstein’s work is heavily influenced by a lifelong passion for aviation and an attentive eye for architecture and civilisational structures as revealed from above. In his remarkable imagery, control is akin to the human micromanagement of the natural environment: on one hand, our ability to radically alter physical topography and, on the other, an ability to overcome natural forces – notably gravity. Here at busy Newark, the thousands of humans that are flowing through the terminal are nowhere to be seen. Encased in concrete, metal, plastic and glass, they are efficiently processed prior to being flown to far-flung destinations. Haven’t we all been there, wherever ‘there’ is?

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Christoph Gielen

CONVERSIONS, Suburban California


Courtesy the artist

The great autoroutes and freeways of today, as mammoth engineering works, have been compared with the cathedrals of the Middle Ages, or even the pyramids of Egypt. They have accelerated our world in every sense, shrinking time and space. It is difficult to get a sense of their complexity – indeed their beauty – from the ground, and Gielen has taken to the air to photograph the sinuous forms of a Southern Californian system. The next revolution(s) in transport may alter these landscapes dramatically. In a hundred years, will they prove as adaptable as medieval cathedrals have proven, or become mere ruins in the landscape?

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Edward Burtynsky

Manufacturing #17, Deda Chicken Processing Plant, Dehui City, Jilin Province, China


from series China

Courtesy Flowers Gallery

Burtynsky’s vast chicken processing plant in China speaks of the extraordinary collective nature of modern food production in a rapidly developing nation of over one billion people. The photographer has centred the image with receding rows of identically clothed workers to the point where they vanish in the distance, suggestive of an infinite collective task. The picture can be viewed as documentary evidence of a complex industrial system and/or as a sign of the tremendous challenges facing China as it positions itself for a leading role in twenty- first-century planetary civilisation