At a basic level of abstraction, a civilization can be likened to a complex machine, with parts that are constantly being repaired or replaced. Civilizations are protective of themselves, both from outsiders and internal existential threats. Control, often subtly disguised under the banner of safety or innovation, has become an inevitability in our modern globalized existence. It is expressed on a grand scale in the form of governing bodies and armies, wielding war and diplomacy: the law; corporations, educational institutions, etc.; or more concretely in the mechanisms whereby authority is applied in daily life: police stations, prisons, courts, schools, boardrooms, power stations, laboratories, etc; Photographers have found varied and ingenious ways of framing these complex realities, which are often hidden from public view.

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Reginald Van de Velde

Inside the belly of an active cooling tower: billions of water drops fall down while releasing heat to the environment. Belgium.


from series Landscapes Within

Courtesy the artist

Van de Velde considers himself ‘a hunter for moments perfectly still in time, audibly quitter than the deafening humanity around us busy with its realities and its worries’. In those moments, he tells us ‘my work begins’. Here he immerses us in the ‘belly’ of a mammoth cooling tower, a forest of graceful columns disappearing into a seeming infinity, an illusion created by the mist of a billion droplets. The scene of surreal, dreamlike beauty confronts us with a paradox: this massive machine serves to cool our machine infrastructure; but it in turns releases heat into the environment. Is there not a lesson to be learned here?

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Paul Shambroom

Maurice, Louisiana (population 642) Village Council, May 15, 2002 (L to R): Paul Catalon, Lee Wood, Barbara Picard (Mayor), Mary Hebert (Clerk), Marlene Theriot


from series Meetings

Courtesy the artist

For a period of four years, bridging the turn of the century, Shambroom traversed the United States, visiting 150 small communities to picture the seats of elected governments in session. He learned that the leaders he photographed – always from the point of view of the people – were paid little or nothing, suffered much abuse and little appreciation, and yet persisted in their belief that their work was necessary and productive. For Shambroom, it was a heartening exposure to the roots of democracy, and through photography, and experiences he could share.

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Thomas Weinberger

Nr. 7


from series Synthesen

Courtesy T.HE COLLECTION, Zurigo

The key to comprehending Weinberger’s Synthesen series lies in the reflection on time and light in photography. He sees light as the photographer’s language, as colour is for the painter. By fusing several exposures of the same subject at different times, he hopes to evoke a dreamlike state: ‘In view of the irrational exuberance in our world, a surreal visual conception represents my attitude to contemporary civilisation more than a documentary one. In my Synthesen series I show civilisation in the light of its fragility, but at the same time my works also celebrate the creative power of man.’

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Lynne Cohen

Untitled [Police School Classroom, Aylmer]


Courtesy Galerie In Situ – Fabienne Leclerc, Parigi

For almost half a century, the late Lynne Cohen documented examples of just about every kind of living and working space human beings inhabit – offices, classrooms, lobbies, hospitals, spas, hotels and so forth. She preferred to show them devoid of their residents and treated them almost as exhibits in an ethnographic museum. When ‘humans’ do occasionally appear, as in this image, they are in the guise of models, employed to act as human surrogates. With her frontal, deadpan approach, Cohen showed repeatedly that we have no need of fictive photography. To use the cliché, truth is stranger than fiction.

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Samuel Gratacap

Search in a house by anti-illegal immigration police, Tripoli, Libya


from series fifty-fifty

Courtesy the artist

Gratacap has extensively tackled the complex topic of migration, encountering those who live and those who die trying to escape from life’s most dire circumstances. The title of his series, fifty-fifty, refers to the stark choice – either success in a new country or death. Power and powerlessness are the two stark poles of this picture, framed to precisely center the hapless man being interrogated. Clearly, the gun, sharply profiled, will be the final arbiter of the exchange. Gratacap’s investigations have been partially driven by his incredulity at official figures tallying up the number of migrants and their fates.

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Carlo Valsecchi

# 0767 Cesena, Forlì, IT. 2012


from series industry, Technogym project

Courtesy the artist

Over many years, Carlo Valsecchi has photographed industrial environments in depth, developing a unique pictorial style that softens the hard edges of our machines and allows us to see them anew as the marvels they truly are. It takes a moment to realise that we are looking here at an exercise room (and not a room where materials are tested for endurance) in which human beings desirous of living longer, attracting good-looking mates and generally upping their chances of success in an increasingly competitive material world stretch their physical attributes to the limits – and sometimes beyond.

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South Ho Siu Nam

Open Door III


from series Open Door

Courtesy the artist and Blindspot Gallery

Open Door is a series inspired by the Occupy Movement surrounding the Hong Kong government headquarters. The building is famous for its design, joining the two wings at the upper level, creating the visual metaphor of an open door in the space below. In the image, the open door becomes a blackout. The effect is achieved by the artist cutting out the opening directly on the negative film. It is a stark comment on China–Hong Kong relations, currently more tense than ever.

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Che Onejoon

National Heroes Acre / Built by North Korean in 1981, Harare, Zimbabwe, 2013


from series Mansudae Master Class

Courtesy the artist

Che Onejoon combines his background in photography with an interest in sensitive political issues to produce photographs, films and installations. He is mainly interested in places and objects that represent the diplomatic ties between the various postcolonial states in Africa and their communist ally North Korea, particularly during the 1970s. This coalition implied international solidarity and reciprocal support, as much as an exchange of knowledge, weapons and raw materials. Moreover, this anti-imperialist southern hemisphere connection created a collective visual language of military symbolism and representations of power, while also having serious repercussions for both geopolitics and the lives of individuals.

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Mitch Epstein

BP Carson Refinery, California 2007


from series American Power

Courtesy Thomas Zander, Colonia

Like many of his colleagues, Epstein prefers to work on projects of his own devising. The title of the project from which these two images are drawn, ‘American Power’, is meant to be taken literally and figuratively. How is power conceived, generated, circumscribed, maintained and projected? Where are its sources situated, its controls, its vulnerabilities? On the one hand, what are the macro- politics around the subject and, on the other, how are ordinary people affected? Epstein’s work is careful, thoughtful, attentive and balanced, accepting all the complexities of a civilisation dependent on massive infrastructures, which it often takes for granted.

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Noh Suntag

Red House I #13


from series Red House

Courtesy the artist

Celebrated South Korean photographer Noh Suntag fills the frame with dancers clothed in identical yellow gowns and presenting a highly coordinated performance. From the series Red House, this image is one of a larger group of photographs taken during an official press trip through North Korea. This scene from an official act of state at the Pyongyang stadium shows the breathtaking tableaux vivants, a subtle show of force and order from the North.

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from series sf (Space Faction)

Courtesy the artist

As an artist, KDK tells us, he is neither a passive witness nor an active agent of change. His sf (space faction or science fiction) series is all about imagining future space but searching for its forms in the present. The spaces are real; the perspectives he takes are original and purposely ambiguous. A space station or an elevator shaft? What is certain is a total absence of nature, leaving us in clinical, frightening, claustrophobic and hopeless spaces. These are sites worthy of Stanley Kubrick’s dystopian visions, the inevitable consequences of a twenty-first or twenty- second century civilisation ruled by heartless logic.

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Gerco de Ruijter

from the top

Tag #1, 2014
Lot #2, 2012


from series Almost Nature

Courtesy the artist

Planes, helicopters and drones are part of the toolkit of a growing number of contemporary photographers, but de Ruijter’s aerial technology dates back thousands of years: he uses the simple kite ideal in his search for ‘a kind of abstraction, or a hesitation between the real and an abstraction’. The writer Peter Delpeut encapsulates this ambiguity when he wonders if he is looking at ‘pastures, salt marshes, canals, tree tops, or rather an abstract painting with Mondrianesque or Art Brut qualities’. De Ruijter poses the question: landscape or abstraction? Or both?

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Luca Zanier

FIFA I Executive Committee Zurich


from series Corridors of power

Courtesy the artist

The FIFA executive committee meets on the third of five underground floors at the Home of FIFA in Zürich, in a bunker- like room worthy of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove. Swiss architect Tilla Theus calls the headquarters she designed for the International Federation of Football Association in Zürich’s exclusive Zürichberg neighbourhood ‘a private residence for the family’. The football family’s decision-makers gather in the subterranean conference room lit by a crystal chandelier in the shape of a football stadium. Ex–FIFA president Joseph (Sepp) Blatter thought that the light ‘should come from the people themselves who are assembled there’.

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Edgar Martins

Picote power station: chart for scheduling the periodic maintenance of the generating sets


from series The Time Machine: An Incomplete & Semi-Objective Survey of Hydropower Stations

Courtesy the artist

Martins’s series subtitle describes this work poetically and provocatively. The image shown here can be taken at face value – as a chart for maintenance purposes – or can be seen in more abstract or metaphorical terms – his ‘time machine’. In this light, it suggests all kinds of switching functions, like a freight railway yard, or the ‘Critical Path’ planning that enabled NASA to land men on the moon, or some internal workings of an early computer. Whatever its specific function, it is human intelligence writ large: rationality, logic, complexity, control – the essence of a technocratic civilisation.

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Philippe Chancel

Arirang, DPRK – North Korea


from series Datazone

Courtesy the artist and Melanie Rio Fluency

Philippe Chancel admits to being ‘caught in a Gordian knot,’ wherever he travels, between the fascination of what he sees happening in front of him, and a persistent feeling of indignation or disgust, particularly when he observes the cynical uses of power. North Korean’s blustering spectacles, designed as much to keep the nations populace in line as to put on a tough face to the world, are a case in point. No one will mistake what this gun is meant to represent. But should we of other nations overlook our own mass displays of power, in the interests of politics, commerce, and distraction.

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Mitch Epstein

Century Wind Project, Blairsburg, Iowa


from series American Power

Courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Colonia

Like many of his colleagues, Epstein prefers to work on projects of his own devising. The title of the project from which these two images are drawn, ‘American Power’, is meant to be taken literally and figuratively. How is power conceived, generated, circumscribed, maintained and projected? Where are its sources situated, its controls, its vulnerabilities? On the one hand, what are the macro- politics around the subject and, on the other, how are ordinary people affected? Epstein’s work is careful, thoughtful, attentive and balanced, accepting all the complexities of a civilisation dependent on massive infrastructures, which it often takes for granted.

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Andrew Rowat

Dongguan Mission Hills Caddies


Courtesy the artist

Rowat often works for travel magazines, and in this case he was photographing some of the mega golf resorts in Southern China. Impressive by the scale, order and almost militaristic order of this particular resort, he realized he could best achieve a dramatic picture by shooting from above. Rowat was not, however, parachuted into a culture he did not understand; he speaks Chinese and had lived there for eight years. He is very aware that his work in the country is really about capturing ephemeral moments, such is the rapid pace of change.

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Giles Price

Opening ceremony, London Olympic Stadium. E20 12 Under Construction


Courtesy the artist

Viewers may be excused for thinking that they are staring at the inside of some devilishly intricate scientific machine, like the Large Hadron Particle Collider. In fact, we are looking at a complex machine, possibly the biggest, most effective social machine in the world – the Olympic Games, with its central site, the Olympic Stadium. This machine’s fast-moving parts come from virtually every nation in the world; the ‘Olympic ideal’ reaches down into every village on earth, drawing up the most physically gifted to place on the world stage. Price’s direct overhead view dramatically illustrates the essence of planetary civilisation.

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Edward Burtynsky

Pivot Irrigation/Suburb, South of Yuma, Arizona, USA


from series Water

Courtesy Courtesy Flowers Gallery

Among Burtynsky’s many ambitious projects is a global look at the increasingly urgent question of the responsible management of water resources. His basic approach is to create high-resolution, large-scale, masterfully printed images that draw the viewer into an examination and contemplation of landscapes that we, as a global civilisation, have altered or are in the process of altering. The images do indeed document reality. But, in another equally important way, Burtynsky hopes that they also transcend the immediate verité of any given scene to provide a sublime aesthetic experience, striking a delicate balance between form and content.

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Richard Mosse



from series Heat Maps

Courtesy the artist and carlier | gebauer, Berlino

Mosse has adapted a military-grade thermal detection camera to take pictures from kilometres away, so, strictly speaking, the images (stitched together from hundreds of individual shots) are not photographs. No matter. In 2016, the photographer visited routes commonly travelled by refugees – from the Persian Gulf to Berlin, and from northern Niger to the now-cleared Jungle camp in Calais – and used this device extensively. Mosse acknowledges that the work raises issues of privacy but believes it might just enlighten a public for whom ‘surveillance’ is usually an abstraction that does not affect their lives. His work asks us to think again.