Brazilian photographer André Lichtenberg’s award-winning opus VERTIGO presents the kind of original insight into a familiar landscape that only an outsider can achieve. VERTIGO is Lichtenberg’s personal take on Britain’s iconic capital city.
Looking beyond the classic images of London endlessly reproduced and imprinted in the national and international consciousness, Lichtenberg took his camera to the top of the UK’s highest building, sited in Canary Wharf, home of the financial elite including Barclays, Credit Suisse, HSBC and Citigroup, and looked down. In the following moments, captured here, the viewer’s eye is drawn down into a visual story, both beautiful and terrifying, that explores both the connection between form and function of these late 20th-century buildings, and the financial district’s relationship with society and the wider world beyond.
One striking effect of Lichtenberg’s framing of the cityscape below him is an extraordinary abstraction of scale – there are few familiar objects to give a sense of perspective, or classifiable reference points to enable the viewer to read what they are seeing. Are we looking at an enlarged microscopic image of a computer chip, or a section of circuit board? Only when a recognizable form, such as a vehicle or a road marking, is identified does the illusion of a microcosmic world fall away in an instant into the macrocosmic reality, the visceral impact of height and drop giving the name to the series.
Once the viewer has been pulled into this vortex, they can reflect on what they are seeing with a new understanding born of this sudden gestalt-like switch in perception. A fascinating aspect of these towering symbols of financial prowess, is the sense that as they reach for the sky they disconnect from the earth below. What do these gleaming geometrics, dominating the underlying topography to the point of obliteration – even the mighty river Thames is annexed in perfect perpendicular borders – say about the city’s relationship to the natural world?
With VERTIGO Lichtenberg poses such questions with a profoundly original insight into his subject, the poetic narrative of a master storyteller, and a breathtaking aesthetic grace.
Text by Michael Bentham