Christoph Lingg – Shut Down

Copyright Christoph Lingg 2007 courtesy Edition Aufbruch E.U.

The beautiful industrial landscape photographs of Christoph Lingg are in stark contrast to the general malaise that appears to be infecting the many industrial sites in his photobook Shut Down; Industrial Ruins in the East. It is evident that Lingg has traveled extensively searching for a specific type of industrial waste; places where structures of commerce have outlived their perceived usefulness and have subsequently been abandoned, idled and are no longer functioning. This project has much in common with Bernd and Hilla Becher decaying industrial structures, Eugene Atget’s old Parisian structure in transition, Eugene Richards abandoned Western plains farmhouses and John Bartelstone’s decaying Brooklyn Navy Yard.

 Lingg is investigating barren sites, which are now only inhabited by crumbling and fading buildings, silos, towers, and infrastructure. These places also have a flawed beauty that seems to intrigue Lingg with their design, lines, mass and varied patina of rusting hues. These are places that are similar to Henrik Saxgren’s Unintended Sculptures, where Lingg has found some of the magic of the readymade object, where everyday absurdities hint at surrealism.

 Lingg’s viewpoint attempts to be objective and almost as aseptic and clinical as Bernd and Hilla Becher’s black and white industrial photographs of abandoned industrial sites, but without their compositional repetition. Lingg’s color photographs are meticulous composed and sharply detailed, evidence of a large-scale camera which is so well suited to the investigation of industrial landscapes. His color photographs are very saturated but frequently have a somber tonality, suggesting the darkness of the economic pall that has come over these once and proud locations of industry. The tonality provides a hint of subjectivity for what I perceive as the photographer’s negative condemnation of what is being investigated.

 His foregrounds are usually vacant and empty, revealing no redeeming value, similar in spirit to the vacant and collapsing structures. He shifts the focus on this foreground as to emphasize that this is the central point, with the decaying structures seceding into the background, as lesser elements. This also creates a visual effect of more space within the photographs, attempting to establish a broader context for his narratives. Lingg’s photographs are elegantly composed to bring forth an esthetic balance and design, attempting to make these places visually appealing even in the pathos of the situation.

 Frequently Lingg pares the different viewpoints of the same general location on facing pages providing a richer narrative about each location. Sometimes there is a glimpse of an individual or equipment that is in the process of reclaiming these structures, extracting some industrial nourishment for another facility. Nevertheless, I do not feel the presence of redemption, tolerance, restoration and re-birth.

 An abandoned structure looms in the middle ground, surrounded by a field of green, with just a glimpse of a white church steeple barely visible amongst the rusting structures. An interesting narrative about the frailty of mankind contrasted against an enduring religious belief that the church continues on in spite of the fluxing economic conditions. I also can not help but note that the religious building is bathed in white, while the futilities of man are darkly rusting hues.

 In one photograph, the foreground is occupied by a vacant and abandoned skeleton structure, while across the greenish river a new and modern appearing high density structure has arisen. Almost lurking in the edges of the foreground is an industrial truck that appears to be collecting the structures remnants; while at the opposite side of the river is a modernist appearing park and canopy structure, providing a stark contrast of the new life looming over an old economy.

I found one pair of photographs particularly haunting in which dirty and ragged industrial clothing was left hanging in place on hooks amongst other hanging hardware and now appears like bodiless ghosts who were left to wonder through this barren faculty.

 Even as the interiors are detoriating, the ensuing results can still create beautiful abstractions, such as the photograph of the wall of yellow peeling paint. It could have been tempting to isolate these forms, shapes and colors to create an aesthetically pleasing photograph, but Lingg chose to include within the frame the counter top and abandoned dusty shoes, creating a more objective and documentary style photograph, reminding me of the story of the Beauty and Beast.

 Unseen are the individuals who labored and once depended on this manufacturing site for a living. Likewise the families and the adjacent community which had depended on this factory for its economic livelihood are not visible. These structures at one time were teeming with people, but who are now sadly missing, with the expectation of a few individuals who appear to be picking through these industrial bones, attempting to find something of value or benefit that might have been earlier overlooked. A factory which ceases to operate has far-reaching implications. It may appear that the decaying and rusting facilities are symbolic of a once thriving business that operated this site, but frequently the corporate business still lives on, only now in another less expensive location.

 I also sense a caustic commentary about a disposable society, such that a substantial factory built from brick and steel can be viewed as impermanent and considered industrial waste. That unneeded factor sites can appear to be a casual liability, much as we might dispose of a paper wrapper after enjoying a sweet confectionary.

 These are melancholic appearing places, more about death than life, a beautiful and yet sad narrative. For me most of the traces of life are no longer present, just the industrial bones left to bleach and rust in the natural elements. There must be memories here, but I do not sense that these are places of dreams, unless you count nightmares. These photographs do not seem hopeful.

 Lingg’s photobook is itself a beautiful and unique object; the book’s cover has incorporated thin rusting metal places, making each set of covers very unique and fitting representation of what lies between the covers. The book has been assembled by hand with screws, which would appear to allow the book to lay flat, which it does somewhat only when you pause mid-book. The book is cased in a stenciled industrial grayish paperboard, probably recycled pulp, slip cover. The essays are provided by Susanne Schaber, Richard Swartz and Serhij Zhadan.

by Douglas Stockdale

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