The global award in photography and sustainability

Vera Lutter

My work is informed by an interest in parallels between the industrial development beginning in the 19th century and the discovery of the chemical process to make a stable photographic image. Progressing simultaneously, both phenomena are responsible for unfathomable change in the way we live and trade information; both currently undergo great changes.

Investigating these parallels, I often found sublime beauty within the destructive power inherent in many industrial accomplishments. Most obviously this can be seen in my images from RheinBraun, Germany where I photographed the equipment used in strip mining. In the name of growth, an entire region was radically and permanently transformed. The mining process erased villages, displaced inhabitants, levelled hills, carved valleys, and destroyed the underground aquifer responsible for all life.

My photographs from Berlin and Battersea Power Station study the change of city landscape due to the introduction of large-scale power plants into the urban environment. Vacant decaying factories like the Nabisco factory in Beacon, New York give testimony to the fact that industrial transformation and migration has been underway for decades.

In earlier images, I photographed vessels of transportation within their industrial environment, including shipyards, airports, and the hangar in which a Zeppelin was constructed. My investigation focused on the monumental, the sublime, and the overbearing appearance and threatening function of these objects. The image of an oil rig nearing completion in a German shipyard is suddenly charged with a reminder of its destructive potential as the Gulf of Mexico is devastated by the worst oil spill in the history of the U.S. My interest in transportation involves globalization, which is part of our life and provides the comforts we expect to live in. Often it destroys regional economies and radically threatens the environment.

A conceptual investigation of the relationship between my process and my subject matter always concerned me. The camera, being a room, an architectural entity, introduces an immediate parallel to the architecture I photograph. The scale of my work gives evidence to both—the medium of reception and the monumentality of the perceived. The void inside the dark interior camera room receives and contains the light, transforming it into a latent image. Unifying method and subject, this function directly relates to that of the emptiness of the vessel awaiting merchandise hence fulfilling its function by shipping it elsewhere.

My work explores the enormous achievements and the destructiveness within the industrial process. While it does not provide the answer to sustainable growth, its very existence suggests contemplation, hoping this may lead to greater respect for the environment.

I am honoured to be nominated for the Prix Pictet, and thank you for your interest.

Vera Lutter, July 2010

Vera Lutter