Do You Actually Have to Go?

General View is the aptly named book from Austrian photographer Thomas Albdorf, which takes a trip to Yosemite National Park as both it’s genuine and ostensible subject. As someone familiar with Albdorf’s other work as well as having visited Yosemite, I was eager to see how Albdorf would render such a physical space by engaging so directly with virtual content.

Whilst the physical distance between two places will always remain the same, the proliferation of content on the internet has caused a profound collapse of a more perceptual distance and it is from this position that Albdorf has made General View. Having never been there himself, he has embraced and relied on a formal mix of digitally appropriated images, content from Google Street View, sculptural still lives and other photographic works created in his studio to cohesively re-contextualise them into a fictional narrative of a supposed trip to Yosemite, and produce a broader commentary on the influence of digital culture. Through these contemporary technologies, Albdorf has been able to build the convincing perception that he has visited a place without the physical action of doing so, an unnerving yet equally astute acknowledgement of a very pertinent contemporary context.

Yosemite seems an impeccably astute choice for Albdorf; it maintains a rigorously established place in photographic history, however through modern technologies is also one of the most visually distributed locations in the world.  Yosemite is the epicentre of both traditional photographic processes and contemporary means to document such places, thus providing him with an immensely vast base of material to work with. Albdorf leans heavily on the internet and the countless images of Yosemite as an immeasurable digital archive but critically re-negotiates his chosen content into his own narrative. He doesn’t simply present existing material but thoughtfully re-contextualises them for his own purpose. It’s refreshing to see such a direct and beneficial engagement with content from the internet, where so often this process lacks the depth that General View shows. Visible marks of digital workings or algorithmic abnormalities alongside other peculiarities are consciously included and these untouched elements further our constant search for normality.

Intriguingly fact and fiction are played both with and against each other; healthily coexisting to construct General View’s narrative and raise the fore-mentioned conversations yet concurrently operating against each other in the formation of tension between what is real and what is not. It is difficult, with no detriment to the book, to confidently establish the authorship or process of each photograph and I am often left with unresolved conclusions and a rupture in the confidence we usually have when looking at images to tell us a straight truth.

The irregularly spaced literary content of the book maintains a jovial tone throughout and further supports the ostensible narrative; just when we think we have grasped Albdorf’s playful methodology we are presented with sentences that momentarily convince us that the paired image may actually be evidence of a real visit to Yosemite.

For me it is both important and pleasing that General View isn’t a series which assumes an overly sombre tone. Despite the possibilities of digital technologies, General View does not seem to present a polemical view on any of the conversations raised and is instead playfully constructed through subtle oddities and humorous undertones. Albdorf’s narrative does not replace the physical experience of visiting Yosemite; this function of digital technology is still perhaps some way off, and critically General View does not (to its virtue) attempt to act as any such form of replacement; rather the book acts as a catalyst for broader conversations regarding contemporary culture and the photographic medium’s integral role in creating and altering perceptions of space.

General View is a considered book. There seems a genuine investment on Albdorf’s behalf into the ideas and the physical construction of each photograph and its consequent contribution to the discourse as a whole. Appropriating imagery from the internet is certainly not new, yet the way in which he has re-contextualised this material into a wholly compelling fictional narrative is something which sets it apart from the tides of appropriated work and foregrounds Albdorf’s capacity to make something truly thoughtful.