Thomas Kellner – Tango Metropolis

Review by Paul Anderson • 

How does one get the Tower Bridge of London to dance? Thomas Kellner has found a way, and it can be seen in his 2021 book Tango Metropolis. Kellner’s reworked image of the iconic London landmark turns the bridge into something straight out of a fairy tale, transforming the bridge’s towers into waving gingerbread structures. The transformation comes courtesy of Kellner’s well-developed deconstruction/reconstruction process that uses the lowly contact as its starting point.

Historically, many artists have deconstructed scenes into smaller pieces, and then rearranged and manipulated these pieces to build completely new realities. The artists of the Cubist movement are perhaps the most famous practitioners of this concept. Contemporary artists who deconstruct and reconstruct images in their own aesthetic style include David Hockney, Jeni Bate, Michael Prais, and Thomas Kellner. Kellner in particular has employed this aesthetic to great effect in Tango Metropolis. His subjects are large, well-recognized architectural structures; and in this book he literally has them dancing a tango. 

Kellner captures his scenes using a film camera and multiple rolls of film, each frame capturing just a small piece of the whole. He reassembles the film strips in a contact sheet format, complete with film edge markings, to create his final image. His chosen format references traditional photographic methods, recalling the history upon which all of photography is built. Information on his particular process can be found in an interesting online interview of Kellner at Catalyst:Interviews.

Kellner’s rich process is key to his work. For a given shooting location and subject, Kellner must decide on grid dimensions, the amount of scene area to be covered by each capture, the vertical and horizontal offset needed between captures, the desired changes in lens focal length and/or camera rotation for each frame, the desired time of day, weather considerations, and the amount of time needed to complete the captures. Then, there is the post-capture assembly of the frames into a contact sheet and the translation to a finished print. This intriguing process should be of interest to the process-oriented photographer or visual artist.

It is interesting to see how Kellner adapts his process to fit his subject. In his giant image of the Grand Canyon, which was reviewed on the PhotoBook Journal in May of 2021, Kellner uses frame-to-frame horizontal and vertical displacement from a regular grid to create tension and interest. 

However, when shooting architectural forms such as those found in Tango Metropolis, Kellner uses a combination of displacement from a regular grid and, more importantly, camera rotation about the lens centerline to create movement in the final product. The more successful images make use of strong vertical architectural elements that then ‘dance’ as the camera rotates clockwise or counterclockwise down a column of frames. The structures seem to shimmy right up out of the ground. Good examples of these are Mexico, Bellas Artes 3 (2006) and the aforementioned Tower Bridge of London (2001).

In other images his process transforms building façades into interesting textures, a good example being Beijing, Prayer of Good Harvest Hall (2006). A different message might be had from a few images where buildings or structures have been turned into incoherent jumbles of shapes and textures, looking decidedly more troubled. One example of this is 92#01 Mont St. Michel (2018).

The images reproduced in this softcover book are of high quality. A relatively long essay is included alongside the images, and it considers “…  the work of Thomas Kellner in the context of the history of photography as well as in the visual arts in general from the perspective of Mannerism.” 

In summary, Kellner borrows an old photographic tool, the contact sheet, to reinterpret famous architectural landmarks around the world. The results are both surprising and interesting, and provide a fascinating look into his process.


Other reviews of Thomas Kellner’s books on PhotoBook Journal: Fachwerkhäuser des Siegener Industriegebietes heute (half-timbered houses of the Siegen industrial area today) and The Big Picture


Paul Anderson is a photographer/digital artist, working in Hermosa Beach, CA


Tango Metropolis, Thomas Kellner

Photographer: Thomas Kellner (born in Bonn, Germany; currently resides in Siegen, Germany)

Publisher: Verlag Seltmann Publishers, Germany, Copyright 2021

Essay: “Thomas Kellner; Modern Mannerism” by Rolf Sachsse

Text: German and English

Stiff-cover, 21 x 21 cm, 24 pages, 10 illustrations, Printer: Seltmann Printart

Design: Peter Büdenbender


Articles and 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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