Fotograf Magazine


‘…people will form collections of all kinds…’



Broken bicycles, graffiti, markings on pavement, hydrants, plastic bags, words on signs and buildings, … – these typically urban phenomenons are the main subject of the more than a 1000 colour pictures presented in the new book Endcommercial, Reading the City. The book is a part of   a project called Digital Slum (www., the extensive ongoing ‘work in progress’ by three photographers – Florian Böhm, Luca Pizzaroni and Wolfgang Scheppe, who have compiled more than 60 000 digital pictures since 1997, that represent details of different parts of NYC. The city was chosen as the prototype of metropolitan city, where the contrasts born out of the economic age are manifested in the most obvious way, thereby creating an archive (originally only at web sites) that pictures a visual lexicon of material culture in contemporary urban life.

The three photographers focuse particularly on objects that are well known, signs and symbols of an urban reality so common and banal that we rarely reflect on them, since their perception is paradoxically veiled by their total visibility. They refer to the immaterial, invisible structure of social space in urban life, hidden under its material signs that are limited by laws, property relations or economic interests. These pictures show the story of urban street life via writtings on the walls, graffiti, street signs, cars, figures as well as the street itself – one set of pictures after another, step by step, revealing its inner principles.

Due to the quantity of images, the artists began to reveal surprising analogies and connections which would stay unnoticed if the pictures were appreciated separately. Because of the context in which the works af all three photographers were submited, they were able to observe the recurrent phenomenons, types of figures, signs and patterns, with which they classified their pictures into a few chapters which emphasize varying phenomenons and the infinite relations to their cyclical nature. This leaves a question of the extent to which these pictorial sets reveal a kind of hidden, though naturally existing order, and to what degree it is a product of ordering the photographs itselves. The photographers are obviously aware of this fact, for their pictures are accompanied by a classification diagram, seemingly logic and strictly rigorous, but, in effect, rather poetic than scientific – the typology of urban elements is sorted to hierarchic system, consisting of three main cathegories, nine subcategories and 32 chapters shopping carts, empty signs, covers, barriers, voice, garbage, neighborhood, and the like. These few examples imply that the cathegories are definitely not objective, coordinated or comprehensive: the diagram is not close, it is more like some ordination game, which makes possible to reclassificate the picture or create new files.

The structure of the book enables the reader to identify the root causes behind the phenomena placed under examination, in order to understand their role as generating or degenerating power in the development of alternative economical subsystems and behavioural patterns born ‘behind’ commerce. Endcommercial is accordingly more a scientific research of social practics, phenomens of appropriations and strategies used for surviving in the streets, digital capture of the traces of, and interventions by the humans in the urban environment, than aesthetic study. Though individual photographs visualize details, within the context they aim to lead the viewer to the perception of generalities – the series of pictures constitutes a visual lexicon, in terms  of  which arise the types and recurrent features that imply    a retrieval of certain order in the chaotic  city.

In spite of the fact that the pictures were made in New York, Endcommercial deals with phenomena we can find in whatever metropolitan city. Through pictures  of broken  bicycles,  words  on signs,  on concrete, on buildings … unveils contradictions and coexistence of various  social  and economic forces that form urban life. The book presents  figures, specific objects, signs and symbols we encounter all the time, but which because of their omnipresence disappeared in anonymous mass of quite ordinary images we barely register. But the context of the photographs changes completely the angle of how we look at these    things.

In this project, a single photography has no meaning at all, it is its submiting in the series and the attitude of the particular series towards others that is important. Wolfgang Sheppe, one of the photographers, wrote: ‘Our oeuvre is not the photography but the archive.’ In this respect, the project , though it may seem contradictory to the statement above, is essentially photographic. Since the beginning, photography stood as    a promise of understanding (however illusory) the world, of coherence of the world in the new urban era have become to fall apart. It regarded the world as a set of possible collections and thus established a possibility of new type of knowledge, announced by Daguerre in his broadsheet advertising.

The images are presented in the series of analogies so it is impossible   to perceive the characteristics of the particular photography without considering its relation to others. Therefore we can extract connotations and differences that would be impossible to see only by looking at a single image. Accordingly, it is obvious that even the personality and individuality of the photographer does not play any important role. There could be countless numbers of potential co-participants on this project, especially    in contemporary era, when digital technology became generally available  and hence enabled, for example, people from the poor suburbs of the metropolitan cities to produce thousands of high resolution, cost  free images  of their  surrounding  a day.

The striking book Endcommercial is not just a book about photography. It shows what became invisible by its omnipresence, things that reveal social and economic patterns and forces that shape urban life. Above all, it is a visual lexicon, the collection of pictorial reports and an encyclopaedia of contemporary global city, full of poetic, surprising connotations, melancholy and humor.

Irena Aimová