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Re-Ordering: A Study of 'Chaos' (Photographs by Josef Koudelka)

Part 1 Dissertation 2000
Timothy Wray
Bartlett School of Architecture (UCL) London | UK
Josef Koudelka is an important contemporary photographer. He made his name documenting refugees, exiles and gypsies, but his most recent book, Chaos, is instead a collection of landscapes and cityscapes. These photographs are architecturally exciting for their abstract qualities, for how scale and light is manipulated, and for how such devices obscure the original meanings and structure of the subjects and re-order them. Although the title Chaos refers to the derelict, discarded, wasted places which Koudelka photographed, the images which result are not at all analogous with these places. In fact Koudelka finds threads of structure and order which are nearly always unintended or accidental in the subjects, and are sometimes even an ironic perversion of their original purpose. In photographing the senseless, otherwise inexplicable results of destruction, neglect and decay, he finds a compositional structure which is entirely of his own making and can only be said to exist within the photographs.

There is also a subtle anthropocentricism in that all the places photographed are man-made, or have been altered by human presence, despite the almost complete absence of life from the photographs, and this questions how we should relate to such "chaos".

These images of empty, inhospitable places, manipulated and subverted by the photographic process, are far removed from the simple world of glossy new buildings which specialist architectural photographers portray, yet they explore issues of space, time, place and meaning relevant to architecture. The dissertation seeks to challenge both the architectural assumptions about such issues, by their being examined in a medium outside traditional architectural discourse, and the coding of the photography of architecture. Hence the narrow debate about the political and sociological significance of photographs, which constitutes the majority of photographic theory, is considered largely irrelevant here, and conventional architectural photography is not considered comparable because of its failure to explore such concerns. The aim of the dissertation is instead to examine how, taking examples from Chaos, the way in which landscapes are re-ordered and re-structured though photography is relevant to how we think about architecture.

Timothy Wray

Re-Ordering: a Study of 'Chaos', photographs by Josef Koudelka.
In this extremely thoughtful dissertation, Tim Wray carefully takes apart the architectural relevance of Josef Koudelka’s photographs in 'Chaos'. Wray treats Koudelka’s photographs as if they were architectural drawings or other representative media, using his interpretive sections on abstraction, scale, light and so forth in order to conduct the analysis. This procedure finds the architectural nature of Koudelka's photographs not in their apparent specific meanings, (although these are alluded to), but in the structuring mechanism by which Koudelka constructs these meanings. At once inventive and rigorous, Wray's dissertation raises the possibility of finding architectural mechanisms all around us, and just in buildings or explicitly architecturally-related media.

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