FLORIAN MAIER-AICHENUntitled (Infrared Industries), 2011, chromogenic print, 177 × 220.3 cm.  Courtesy the artist and Gagosian Gallery, Hong Kong.

FLORIAN MAIER-AICHEN, Aus Ven (From Hven), 2011, chromogenic print, 225.4 × 207 cm. Courtesy the artist and Gagosian Gallery, Hong Kong.

FLORIAN MAIER-AICHEN, Untitled, 2011, chromogenic print, 218.4 × 156.2 cm.  Courtesy the artist and Gagosian Gallery, Hong Kong.

FLORIAN MAIER-AICHENUntitled, 2005, chromogenic print, 60.3 × 70.5 cm.  Courtesy the artist and Gagosian Gallery, Hong Kong.

Florian Maier-Aichen

Gagosian Gallery
Hong Kong

Walking into the blank white canvas of the Gagosian Gallery space, the seductive colors of Florian Maier-Aichen’s landscape photographs are breathtaking. Lush, saturated hues bounce off the walls, offering a refreshing take on an age-old genre. This is the artist’s third solo show with the gallery, and his first on Hong Kong soil. Based in Cologne and Los Angeles, Maier-Aichen has gained international recognition for his expansive aerial photographs of natural scenes.

Trained at the Dusseldorf School, Maier-Aichen was turned off by its rigid, documentary approach to photography, drawn instead to the medium’s format and process. His mode of engaging with photography involves a layering process, with hand-drawn elements and digital manipulation. The resulting works become a construct of what the artist sees, transcending mere record. Walking around the gallery, one is in a state of constant double-take—having to actively distinguish between what is real and fictitious.

At the gallery’s entrance, a serene night scene greets the viewer. Through a pine forest is a vibrant sky, replete with twinkling constellations. Closer observation reveals subtle painterly strokes of blue, and line scribbles denoting the stars themselves. The illusion of objectivity is broken, revealing the work to be a photograph of a photograph overlaid with paint. Playing with perception, probing the medium’s veracity, is a hallmark of Maier-Aichen’s practice.

The 15 works on view can also be viewed as a homage to photographic history. Untitled (2005) captures the moment when a violent wave breaks on a coastline, the foam calmly dispersing into the larger seascape. This dramatic scene distinctly recalls the work of 19th-century photographer Gustave Le Gray (see Seascape with Sailing Ship and Tugboat and The Great Wave, Sète, both 1857) who, using an albumen print process, developed a signature technique of “composite” prints combining multiple negatives into a single picture. “It is my deepest wish that photography, instead of falling within the domain of industry, of commerce, will be included among the arts,” Le Gray wrote in his 1852 treatise. Taking up this lineage, Maier-Aichen similarly reworks his seascape through a composite image.

Maier-Aichen’s more traditional landscape compositions, including Untitled (Infrared Industries) (2011), which captures the California coastline in a manner reminiscent of a postcard, demonstrate his commitment to photography as an art. Taken with a large format camera, these photos depict popular scenic spots and often resemble the works of Carleton Watkins and George Fiske, both great landscape photographers of the 19th-century American West. But the photographs are only the start of Maier-Aichen’s process. In Untitled (Infrared Industries), urban development abruptly cuts into coastal nature—hills are destroyed leaving an indelible mark. Due to digital infrared enhancement, the compositions have a vintage patina, but are also vaguely science-fiction under their a glazed red tint. They might be said to foreshadow the desolate landscape that will result from our over-exploitation.

While the works in the show display a visual harmony, their ultimate cohesion comes from the artist’s process.  Aus Ven (From Hven) (2011), an aerial view of the small Swedish island, proves an exception with its simple, aesthetic allure. The artist was attracted to Ven because of the geometric color fields that emerge with the springtime blossoms.  The gallery visitor eagerly anticipates a revelation of the artist’s touch, yet such fancy manipulations fail to appear. This image is a pure photograph, captured via helicopter. 

The breadth of Maier-Aichen’s work is well represented in this show,  which features selections from his oeuvre that spans the past eight years.  Through them, the artist continues to demonstrate his strength in developing beautiful photographs, but more importantly, in creating images that invite us to look. . . and look again. 

Florian Maier-Aichen is on view at Gagosian Gallery, Hong Kong, from September 14–October 26, 2013.

Sylvia Tsai is assistant editor at ArtAsiaPacific.