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North South.

Photographs by Axel Hutte. Text by Hanne Holm-Johnsen.
Schirmer/Mosel, Munich, 2006. 84 pp., 39 color illustrations, 13¾x10¾".

North/South is the latest book of landscape photographs from German photographer Axel Hütte. Hütte, a member of Düsseldorf's big print mafia, studied under the Bechers at the Kunstakademie. Like his teachers and his better-known fellow students-such as Thomas Struth and Andreas Gursky-his work is based on a strong formal rigor. However, Hütte tends to eschew the indexical and descriptive functions of photography in favor of a more purely formal exploration of pictorial space. As the title suggests, North/South presents two groupings of work, one focusing on barren, gray northern climates and one on lush, wet southern locations. Both groups focus exclusively on the natural world, not evincing a trace of human presence. Hütte favors vantage points and compositions that flatten space and create a sense of floating over the landscape, removing from the landscape even the presence of the photographer (and thus the viewer). The North photographs-of glaciers, arctic seas, waterfalls, and vast empty skies-capture the starkness of northern landscapes as well as the diffuse grayness of light. The Southern images-closely cropped foliage, swampy reflections and dense forest-convey a chaotic density and near claustrophobia. The book is well sized with excellent reproductions that do as much as they can to convey the sense of the highly detailed original prints, which are best measured in meters. The North/ South division makes a certain kind of sense and sets up nice juxtapositions of differing light, space and atmosphere. In the end, however, it is a curatorial conceit that has little to do with the core concerns of the photographs. The book's essay, by Hanne Holm-Johnsen, rightly places Hütte's photographs more in the tradition of landscape painting than that of photography. There is an attention to formal elements and picture-making strategies typically more familiar to painters than photographers. In particular, there is a very conscious building of pictorial space within the flat rectangle of the image. The best of the photographs here are striking, unexpected compositions that delicately balance awareness of the images' formal elements with an ambiguous yet tangible sense of the landscapes' actual space. While many of the photographs manage to create a nice tension between abstraction and the palpable reality of highly detailed photographic representation, in others the tendency towards abstraction is a bit heavy-handed, tipping the balance too far in the direction of pure formalism. AARON ROTHMAN Read Publisher's Description.

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