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Balthasar Burkhard

Mexico, 1999
silver gelatin print on baryta paper
116.0 x 146.5 cm
“You don’t create a photo when you snap the picture, but rather before that, in your head”, explains Balthasar Burkhard.

The idea of photographing cities had been in the back of his mind for twenty years until the day he was finally able to put together the right economic and organisational conditions for realising the project. This kind of complex undertaking is indeed akin to shooting a film. Begun in 1987, the first photographs in this series offer aerial views of the great European cities. Later, Burkhard tackles the “megacities”, to borrow the photographer’s term, huge urban centres like Mexico City, Chicago, Los Angeles and Tokyo. Thereafter, he has had to suspend this work because authorisations to photograph cities were increasingly difficult to obtain. Nevertheless he hoped to photograph the city of Mumbai to complete the series.

Overlooked by ancient towering mountains whose peaks reach as high as 5000 m, the megalopolis of Mexico City itself lies at 2000 m above sea level. The photographer captures the fascinating contrast that arises between the natural relief of the area, which sprawls outwards horizontally in a kind of half-fog – recalling the city’s high level of air pollution – and the geometric structure of the city streets, which are laid out like a chessboard. The aerial viewpoint offers a feeling of openness and expansiveness that suggests at the same time a human anthill.
Balthasar Burkhard, Mexico, 1999