Hans-Georg Esch is one of the most renowned photographers of architecture, having realized numerous exhibitions and books, e. g. Megacities – Räume einer beschleunigten Gesellschaft. We talked with him about his perspectives on megacities and about the story behind his panoramic photograph “Salzburg 360 degrees”.
Q: What about the architecture of conurbation is intriguing for you?
A: As a photographer, I am portraying the work of renowned architects all over the world – in my job, I used to visit many countries and especially the megacities. I am intrigued by the density and structure of cities and impressed by the energy which makes itself felt in these cities. Some years ago, I had started to document their growth in non-commissioned pictures. My pictures are meant to testify to the rapid development and to put flesh on the slogan of globalization.
Q: Your photographs show, on the one hand, the monotonousness of high-rise façades and, on the other, the vastness of the megacities. Viewing them, one is appalled and awed at the same time. What is your predominant feeling with respect to them?
A: It is a feeling of wonder and awe! Whoever sees these big cities or beholds my pictures of them should refrain from European thought patterns. For the people, especially in Asia, megacities mean chances, freedom and amenities. The European idea of the city must not be applied on these booming megalopolises. To me, it is much more fascinating to see how people create spaces to live, in which way they try to ameliorate the living conditions. For people in China, living in a high-rise building is a privilege! When I go around photographing there I am often received very friendly, and the people are proud to show me their city.
Q: How do you get along with cities, the sheer dimensions of which in many respects surpass our habits and perceptions?
A: At first, the vast size and extent meant a challenge for me. I try to find an elevated viewpoint from which I can get an overview. I try to find out: Where is the core of the city? Where are new urban centres in the making?. Next, I investigate possible viewpoints carefully choosing the perspectives. During my work, I have always come across helpful people who allow me to photograph from the roof of high-rise buildings or from a window in their apartment.
Q: Since September, your photographs of Chinese megalopolises have been shown in the Carlswerk in Cologne. How did your project “Cities Unknown” come about?
A: The idea for this exhibition was born during a production in Chongqing, the largest municipality on earth. I had been there to document the opera house designed by a German architect. Hardly anyone in the West has ever heard of this metropolis. This was my reason to photographically document some of the Chinese megacities, which number up to 170 by now, and make them known.
Q: For your photographs in “Cities Unknown” you have used the Leica S2. Why did you choose that camera?
A: I have come to know Leica S2 during my previous project “Salzburg 360 degrees”. Even then I was thrilled by the brilliance of the details that the camera conveyed in my panoramic view of that city. The S2 is an uncomplicated tool. You can work quickly and effectively. One may, for example, take pictures from hard-to-reach nooks or great heights without having to carry cumbersome equipment along. For my kind of photographic work, this is a big advantage. Furthermore, I am delighted with the “analogous” look of the data and the precise colour rendering.
Q: “Salzburg 360 degrees” is also a project concerned with architecture and landscape. You have “recreated”, so to say, the famous painting by Johann Michael Sattler that depicts Salzburg as seen from the Hohensalzburg castle.
A: That photograph was taken in preparation of an exhibition in the Salzburg Leica Galerie in which photographs from diverse regions of the planet were shown. In cooperation with Ms. Rehn-Kaufmann, the director of the Salzburg Leica Galerie, I elaborated on the idea of creating a special portrait of the city of Salzburg. I photographed Salzburg from the identical perspectives in Johann Michael Sattler’s painting. Sattler, in his day, travelled with his painting for which he had a cabinetmaker built a special, big rotunda. He exhibited the painting in many European cities, including London, Amsterdam, Cologne and Hamburg. For our panoramic view of the city in 2010, we have designed a rotunda with the same dimensions. It has been shown in Salzburg and afterwards in Vienna, Cologne and now in Wetzlar. In Salzburg alone, about 50,000 people came to see the photograph in the rotunda. They were fascinated with the brilliance and the fidelity of the details the Leica S2 made possible. It is planned to show the panoramic photograph in the following years in Hamburg, Munich, Berlin, Moscow, Singapore, Tokyo, Chicago and elsewhere.
Herr Esch, thank you very much!
-Leica Internet Team
If you’d like to see more of Herr Esch’s work, visit his website: http://www.hgesch.de/.