Charlie Koolhaas – City Lust

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Review by Gerhard Clausing

Charlie Koolhaas likes to see the world and share her observations in photographs and in writing. She was born in London, is of Dutch origin, has also been educated in the United States, and has lived in a number of countries for extended periods of time. Thus she is truly qualified as a cosmopolitan surveyor of cultural and political phenomena.

It is particularly apropos that her Swiss publisher Scheidegger and Spiess by chance is introducing her book in the United States during this particular month. We are still reeling from the haphazard management of a pandemic, which has caused nerves to be unsettled already, and we are experiencing additional strife because the treatment of minorities has still not reached the full level of equality that we had expected for a very long time. She too had a violent encounter with police, and her treatment was rougher in the US than similar experiences in other countries. And yes, whether she was recognized as a journalist or not, and who was with her at that time had something to do with it. But I won’t give that story away here; you can get the book and find out for yourself.

Back to the photobook: Koolhaas has a refreshingly honest and democratic eye that assesses both rich and poor, with a particular concern for the role of minorities in each country. The photographs and the accompanying verbal vignettes are a pleasure to view and read, especially because of the large size of the pages and the design that makes full-bleed printing of the images extraordinarily graphic. She is also very optimistic and looks for creativity in many places.

As we study her visual and verbal observations, covering the cities London, Guangzhou, Houston, Lagos, and Dubai, we see a celebration of the outsider. Koolhaas seems to want us to sit up and take notice of the fact that there is something we share in all those places: a majority of the population is actually those who do not fully represent the old “established” norms. The particulars vary, but diversity can be celebrated rather than resented or attacked. The images are evocative and make us think: tall buildings that dwarf the humans whose sweat erected them, street food markets that exhibit marginal hygiene, exploitation of the environment and of other creatures … the list goes on and on.

The contrasts observed by Charlie Koolhaas show a committed photojournalistic technique that goes way beyond the more customary street photography. Her interest is in demonstrating what we have in common and to work toward an understanding of universality that might get the viewer to a realization of what may need to be changed. Her personal approach, which also shows a substantial sense of humor, surmounts the distance that was previously customary in photojournalism. It represents a philosophy of “do unto others” – many of her images could have been taken in any location, as they point out interesting contrasts in need of assessment and modification.

Tolerance of differences is not easy, but acceptance and respect for others are desperately needed. Our own limitations cause us to be anxious about others. The world-wide demonstrations going on right now and the analyses in this photobook clearly tell us to overcome engrained dislikes and to consider treating others and our world more equitably. May this photobook help in our search for better solutions!

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Charlie Koolhaas – City Lust

Photographer:  Charlie Koolhaas (born in London; resides in Rotterdam, Netherlands)

Publisher:  Scheidegger & Spiess, Zurich, Switzerland; © 2020 (US launch June 2020)

Texts:  Charlie Koolhaas

Language:  English

Hardcover, illustrated, with sewn binding; 412 pages, paginated, with 354 images; 21.5 x 30.5 cm (8.5 x 12 inches); printed and bound in Germany by DZA Druckerei zu Altenburg GmbH

Photobook Designers:  Studio Marie Lusa – Marie Lusa, Dominique Wyss

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Articles & photographs published on PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).

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