Born in 1955, Andreas Gursky is a leading German photographer who currently lives in Düsseldorf, Germany. Many of Gursky’s photographs reflect the human condition in the era of globalisation. They include images of vast office spaces and factory interiors, the uniformity of high-rise apartments, the frenzy of traders in the stock exchange and crowds at nightclubs, outdoor concerts and sports events.

Kirchentag, 2013 is one such example of his depiction of contemporary life. The image is a nocturnal scene of an endless mass of people in a makeshift campground, illuminated by candlelight. Some people have tents, but most are sleeping in the open air, on blue tarpaulins with sleeping bags and air mattresses. The crowd is gathered to attend Kirchentag, a festival of religion and world affairs, which is held biennially in different German cities and which regularly attracts more than 100,000 participants.

Gursky has seamlessly stitched together images to create this birds-eye view -a perspective that allows the viewer to observe simultaneously the behaviour of individual people and of the crowd as a whole. The image also hovers between reality and abstraction. Up close the viewer can voyeuristically observe a wealth of detail, yet from a distance the image dissolves into its fundamental colours and forms.

Kirchentag conveys a sense of universal sense of catastrophe, with the figures resembling a sea of displaced people, a plight all too common in times of political and religious upheaval or natural disasters. A haunting poetic quality also pervades the work, as the people disappear in the distance, the lights of the candles eventually becoming the only sign of their existence.

Text by Julie Robinson, Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs.

  • Look closely at Kirchentag. Can you identify tents, air mattresses and figures? Is there anything else you recognise?
  • Discuss the statement ‘Contemporary art is about contemporary life’. Use Gursky’s work to support your argument. What do you think Gursky is saying about human behaviour?
  • Kirchentag is nearly three metres tall and two metres wide. If you aren’t able to see this work in situ – roughly work out in your classroom how big this photographic image is. Why do you think the artist decided to create such a large photograph? How would the image change if he had made it the size of an A4 sheet of paper?

Take a look online of other photographs by Gursky. His images capture somewhat ordinary scenes and human activity, yet by exaggerating colour and stitching images together, he creates an image that is familiar – but also one that doesn’t actually exist in reality.

  • Photograph a scene you see every day. This might be your street, school or supermarket. Using digital technology to manipulate your image so that it appears real – but is not. Consider colour modification or perhaps there are areas of the image you could easily duplicate or stitch together to give the illusion of the photograph being endless or somewhat surreal.

Andreas Gursky, 15 January 1955, Kirchentag, 2013; printed 2014, Germany, colour inkjet print, 287.0 x 197.0 cm (image), 297.5 x 207.5 cm (sheet, sight), 307.0 x 217.0 cm (frame); Gift of Susan Armitage, Frank Choate, Arata Gwinnett, Jennifer Hallett, Roger J. Lang, Lipman Karas, Mark Livesey QC, Pam McKee, Pamela McKee, Peter McKee, Meredyth Sarah AM, Sue Tweddell and Dick Whitington QC through the Art Gallery of South Australia Foundation Collectors Club 2015, assisted by the V.B.F. Young Bequest Fund, Douglas and Barbara Mullins Fund, A.M. and A.R. Ragless Bequest Funds and the Lisette Kohlhagen Bequest Fund, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, © Andreas Gursky/Copyright Agency.