oil field system of pipes and tubes
Gregor Sailer, Industrial Site, Ras Laffan, Qatar, 2010, from the series ‘Closed Cities’ © Gregor Sailer, image right Vienna 2022

Gregor Sailer’s Photographs Explore Architecture’s Political, Military, and Economic Implications

In a new show at Kunst Haus Wien in Vienna, the Austrian artist continues his investigation of architecture where few civilians tread.

Gregor Sailer’s quest for unusual structures and buildings takes him to some of the most extreme reaches of human civilization — from military field exercise centers in the USA and Europe to a mining centre near Chuquicamata in the Atacama Desert to Arctic snow fields.

Sailer’s images from the series “The Potemkin Village” question society’s frequently absurd excrescences, allowing viewers to access a world of fakes and artificial sceneries. In the series “Closed Cities”, he captured exceptional places forbidden to outsiders, such as a diamond mine in Russia and refugee cities in the Sahara. For his most recent series entitled “The Polar Silk Road”, the Austrian undertook several expeditions to the Arctic, documenting the physical infrastructure of the global power struggle in this remote region.

image of a man in a snowsuit
Portrait Gregor Sailer, Canada © Gregor Sailer

Just taking one shot per subject, Sailer’s photographs are devoid of human life. The son of an architect, he often portrays buildings as self-contained solitaires and thus elevates them to independent aesthetic structures with a sculptural presence—a look reminiscent of the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher.

In addition to working with a view camera, Sailer and the Becher’s common preoccupation is the use of evenly diffused light, as shadows or reflections mean atmospheric distractions.

tunnel lined with pipes
University Dortmund, 2005, from the series ‘Subraum’ © Johannes Naumann, Gregor Sailer, Stefan Tuschy, image right Vienna 2022
underground hall with cement roof
Subway Bochum, 2005, from the series ‘Subraum’ © Johannes Naumann, Gregor Sailer, Stefan Tuschy, image right Vienna 2022

Sailer studied visual communication from 2002 to 2007 at Dortmund Academy, placing his focus on photography and experimental film. This time brought him in touch with the “Düsseldorf School” of seeing, a term coined by the meanwhile legendary first generation of Becher students.

While there are typological approaches, Sailer’s work isn’t as exclusively and consistently defined by it as the Becher’s. Ignoring the too striking and too literal, Sailer uses architecture in his pictures to sensitize people to socially critical issues in a roundabout way.

fake road in the snow
Gregor Sailer, car testing area, Carson City, Sweden, 2016, from the series ‘The Potemkin Village’ © Gregor Sailer, image right Vienna 2022

His latest show, titled Unseen Places is on view through February 19, 2023 at Kunst Haus Wien in Vienna. “Gregor Sailer is a photographer who gives a lot of thought to his compositions, and with his elaborate pictures counteracts the fast-moving, volatile floods of images by offering tranquillity and precision instead,” says Verena Kaspar-Eisert the exhibition’s curator.

Would you like to comment on this article? Send your thoughts to: [email protected]