Out Of The Pits: A Gursky Photograph and How to Represent Capital
December 20, 2012 § 2 Comments
A photograph of a frantic trading pit on an epic scale is installed on a gallery wall, its origins are the largest and oldest commodity exchange in the world. The photograph is titled Chicago Board of Trade II (1999) by German-born photographer, Andreas Gursky. Traversing the globe, Gursky makes images that reflect upon the human condition, as he sees it, manifest in urban, rural, cultural and industrial spaces. Although a former student of Bernd Becher (who worked professionally as an artist with his wife, Hilla Becher) at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf (Düsseldorf Art Academy), Gursky has not completely subscribed to the dogma of strict objectivity, having always cropped and manipulated negatives when necessary and more recently, incorporated digital manipulation into his practice.
The Chicago Board of Trade is an exemplary site of modernity…in this location, everyday relationships to the potential of money and the necessity of trade become extreme. Financial professionals bring together flow, speed and technology in the pursuit of profits, and when thousands of them gather everyday, they help create something larger – the market.
Installed in a central passageway of London’s Tate Modern, the cultural anthropologist, Caitlin Zaloom, first encountered the image while in the city as part of her long-term ethnographic research on traders. The words quoted above form part of her response to the abstraction of capital that the image invokes, she continues:
a clear message about the velocity of money and its disordering effects in the global economy. The market takes in vast waves of capital and spews them out again in a logic all of its own. Yet the for the crowd of spectators around the photogaph, the commotion and dissarray are entrancing. It is unsettling to examine the picture closely, especially because a literal understanding of the physical space, or of the traders’ labor, is impossible. Instead it is easier to step back from the photograph and absorb the overall impression of the global financial beehive (2010: 2).
Her encounter with Gursky’s photograph forms the introduction to her book, Out of the Pits: Traders and Technology from Chicago to London (2010) and pivotally defines her methodological approach. While, understanding the functioning of such an aesthetic, Zaloom advocates as a priority to move beyond the abstraction of capital, as visually embodied in Gursky’s photograph – a function capital embraces also in the context of technological evolution regarding the labour of the traders themselves and their possible future abstraction – and a necessity, therefore, to look closer and in great detail at the apparatus of the global market:
Markets are objects of inquiry into the culture and economy of contemporary capitalism…today, the world’s powerful financial centers are the ones that need explanation. The mysteries of markets touch our lives, but few outside the financial profession understand them (2010: 11).