Thomas Kellner – The Big Picture

Review by Paul Anderson

Imagine approaching the rim of the Grand Canyon on a bright sunny day, and watching the stunning natural scenery unfold in front of you. In Thomas Kellner’s new photo book, The Big Picture, you can expect a similar experience as you unfold his massive panorama of the Grand Canyon, made up of 2,160 individual 35mm film frames. It forms a large mosaic across eight concertina-folded pages, and it is a grand presentation indeed.

This panorama’s stylistic origins must have come from Kellner’s previous work on architectural mosaics, such as his treatment of the Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany (2011) or the Tokyo Tower (2010). Although his exact process is not known to this reviewer, his mosaics appear to be made from individual photographic film frames or film strips. In creating his mosaics, Kellner creatively shoots and re-assembles his frames in such a way that the resulting constructions resemble, but do not duplicate, the original scene. It is this dissonance that gives these pieces their charm. For the architectural mosaics, these departures include shifted scene elements and whimsically rotated tiles. Additionally, he purposefully includes unexposed film edges to delineate the mosaic grid, and these become an integral part of the work. The grid calls attention to each individual ‘tile’ in the overall construct. 

In 2014, Kellner applied his photographic mosaic technique to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. In one five-hour period during that summer, Kellner shot 60 rolls of 35-mm film from Lipan Point on the south rim of the canyon. The resulting mosaic is presented as the main image in The Big Picture.

For his Grand Canyon work, the mosaic tiles or frames are not dramatically shifted or rotated, as found in his architectural work, but instead have a subtle coverage overlap across tiles. This creates significant horizontal and vertical stretch to the scene, adding a sense of grandness. When seen from a bit of a distance, the eye tends to integrate the areas of overlap, and repeating pieces of rock and cliff just become more rocks and cliffs. This piece is about the colors, textures and expanse of the canyon. A tiny bit of the Colorado River can be glimpsed in the lower right portion of the image, providing a hint of scale.

I found the best way to view the mosaic was to sit in a chair and spread the image out on the floor in front of me, or spread it out on a table and view it from above. The colors and expanse of the Grand Canyon cliffs are most impressive at this viewing distance. The print resolution is really not sufficient for viewing this large foldout at normal book-reading distances.

This is a hard-bound book with a Leporello binding, and contains two concertina-folded images. The large 150 cm wide Grand Canyon mosaic is attached to the inside rear cover. It has six folds, and includes an essay written by Freddy Langer on its reverse. The essay comments on the history of the Grand Canyon, recalls the ways other artists have depicted the canyon, and discusses the artistic approach taken by Thomas Kellner. A five-fold image is attached to the inside front cover. It is a smaller mosaic called “Grand Canyon 2,” containing 288 individual film frames, and including the photographer’s biography on its reverse side.

This book will be of interest to those who appreciate grand landscapes, panoramas, or who work in mosaic-like art forms.

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The Big Picture – Thomas Kellner

Photographer: Thomas Kellner, born in Bonn, Germany; currently residing in Siegen, Germany. 

Publisher: Seltman Publishers, Berlin, Germany, © All images VG BildKunst Bonn and Thomas Kellner, 2020

Essay: The Grand Canyon by Freddy Langer, translated by Nelly Thomas

Text: English copy (reviewed), available with German text.

Hard cover, Leporello binding. Printed by Seltmann Printart, Lüdenscheid

Photobook Designers: Marc Babenschneider and Peter Büdenbender

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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).

2 thoughts on “Thomas Kellner – The Big Picture

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  1. The Big Picture – first of all, David Hockney and his “campaign against central perspective” comes to my mind. As far as I know, he founded this “mosaic technique” with his Polaroid works. Later he developed it further in his painting. One of the most impressive pictures is the really huge “Closer Grand Canyon” from 1998, composed of sixty individual panels, which was also exhibited in Hamburg last year. Here you can get an impression:
    https://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/kunst/david-hockneys-lebenswerk-im-bucerius-forum-hamburg-16787055.html

    Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)

  2. Dear Johannes Groht,
    when I started my work in contact sheets in 1997, back to lense camrea, after working on pinhole only for several years, I came back from Paris and saw the David Hockney photographs exhibition in Cologne in 1997, including the bigger Grand Canyon picture. I was in contact with the former curator of photography Reinhold Misselbeck, who convinced me to continue my work, as I had more differences in my work than similarities. 2001 he hold the ever first opening speech on my contact sheets at City arts Gallery of Iserlohn directed by Rainer Danne with a first book Monumente. The opening speech was later published in EIKON
    https://www.thomaskellner.com/artist-thomas-kellner/publications/2002/eikon-2002.html
    I kept working on the contact sheet now for soon 25 years. My exhibition of the Grand Canyon gotr a review by FAZ Magazin: https://www.faz.net/aktuell/stil/drinnen-draussen/fotograf-thomas-kellners-blick-auf-den-grand-canyon-16998152.html. The essay in the book is by Freddy Langer who frequently writes on photography in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the leading German national newspaper.
    If you are around Siegen, where I live, knock my door any time.
    Cheers
    Thomas

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