Luísa Santos

Andrew Daneman, ‘Airport’

By Luisa Santos (Curator MA, RCA)

“If on arriving at Trude I had not read the city’s name written in big letters, I would have thought I was landing at the same airport from which I had taken off.”
- Italo Calvino, “Invisible Cities”, 2002

As consequence of his frequent travel, American photographer Andrew Daneman naturally began taking images in airports. Amidst the scenes of cell phone talkers, sound of cash machines, information overload, the opposites isolation/crowds, standing/moving, waiting/hurrying, Daneman takes us to environments unique to airports. He shows intentionally anonymous, mostly in silhouette - individuals walking through the airport, moving apart or together in keeping with the dictates of chance and the tacit rules of necessary avoidance.

Then, in 2008, the artist began a series of color photographs ideally to be hung in airports. Taken intentionally to catch their subjects unawares, these images portray a complex society in which each individual is the actor in a non-place setting. In an ambiguous relationship, Daneman portrays non-places but placing these as a double, in the very same spaces, he transforms the idea of non-place with this recognition feeling.

Daneman deliberately excluded all idea of narrative, all unusual or extreme situations. There is a good deal of Baudelaire’s flâneur in Andrew Daneman, whose photographs are filled with ephemeral and fugitive moments which the artist uses formally as trope – anonymous silhouettes, blurred bodies, crowds in motion. That a society consists of individuals may sound like a foregone conclusion, and trivial enough at that. That human beings cannot be simplified to the term “society”, that the public spaces they populate play a deeply influential part and that again, “society” cannot be restricted to a particular territory or a specific social group, is demonstrated by Daneman in his photographs of people from major international airports.

Daneman’s approach to ‘Airport’ is fuelled by his interest in what moves people in large cities. He ponders urban situations, their delights and disappointments, their countless psychological states and social networks. The photographer submerges, as it were, in the crowd, whilst preserving some detachment from the passers-by through his lens. His pictures consciously evoke a hint of voyeurism and this consistently accompanies his perspective on people. Nevertheless, it is not a negative voyeurism, in the sense that it is not in any instance evaluative, speculative, nor condescending and, above all, not an ethnographic gaze.

The artist highlights situations that encapsulate a global reality. His shadows and backs of heads whisper "everybody is suspicious". The manner of his protagonists' entry on the scene is calculated to make a personal impression. All are variants of metropolitan individuality with an internationally shared, generation-specific mode of presentation manifest in waiting, moving, clothing, certain accessories, special fashion brands and in gestures and postures. In the process, it becomes clear that the quality of individuality is becoming standardized to a worldwide pattern, showing also how we ourselves are shadows, blurs, mere backs of heads to others. The consistency in Daneman's serial approach and his different forms of presentation are evidence of an analytical turn of mind. The idea for a photograph comes to him before the instant of the shot itself. Chance and spontaneity are part of that approach – he does not arrange the subjects or the sets, he arranges himself. It is not about making a set and constructing a reality that is going on in his mind but simply walking, observing and documenting his observations. Although, even if his unswerving recourse to the same shooting procedure may lend the result the air of having been turned out in fast serial production, every shot is the outcome of a considered artistic process, both at the moment of shooting and later in the designating of the subject and (non) place to be shown. In other words, his art is still guided by conceptual methods. The composition is carefully considered but also intuitive as it comes from a decades-long experience. Sometimes cinematographic, the composition and the shutter speed (low speed, making the blurs, the shadows as he sees it in reality with the constant speed of those places) have a reality tone that makes us feel as if we were actually there. It is consistent that the greater concept of the oeuvre is always part of the subject of the individual picture and only those subjects that accord with the general concept are candidates for inclusion.

Since its inception, photography has had both an ambivalent and reciprocal relationship with other art forms. Surprisingly enough, non-photographic artists began to incorporate characteristic aspects of photography into their own work. For example, radical uses of transformation of reality while the intention is usually imitation, with the end products are an expression of an emotional response to the subject; in Daneman’s case, his funny-headed people, typical of photographs often appears in the work of the Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti. Daneman creates renditions of his models the way he saw them, and the way he thought they ought to be seen. In fact, these portraits are an emotional response to the reality he faces, as he sees himself as “one of the shadows, posers with a camera, a blur we see at an airport.”

Jean-Christophe Ammann speaks of Beat Streuli's 'missing his subject when he takes a photograph' . This is the first thought when looking at Andrew Daneman’s ‘Airport’ series. It is the overall situation, however, the mood and atmosphere in these pictures along with the societal information they convey, that constitute Daneman's central theme and thus the individual subject. It never subsists in the people alone.

Daneman's ‘Airport’ is not a venture of sociological analysis; but its precise depiction of realities and the concentration on certain groups render a many-layered picture of societies in large cities. Although the subject photographed usually projects an aura of vitality and self-confidence, it is disconcerting to see the same look, the same fashion, even the same body language repeatedly. In his own way, the artist is posing Dérrida’s question ‘What is Différance?’ What is different in a global (and mass) age? As Jacques Tati, in ‘Mon Oncle’, he takes us to an extraordinary mix of dualities: public and private; mass culture and individuality; surging activity and solitude; alienation or vulnerability.

Through his images, Daneman speaks about a global age described by Marshall MacLuhan in ‘The Medium is the Massage’ and takes us to Marc Augé’s ‘Non-Places’. Without crops or digital fancy devices, he avoids sentimentalism and shows us the banal – A girl with green scarf before a wall of blurred monitors, checking boarding times. In his ‘Airport’ series, Daneman invokes a new, redeemed humanity that has rediscovered immortality by dint of repetition. Whenever the individual may come into the world or for that matter, depart from it, - he will not have missed anything there. The bodies present the eye of the beholder with the eternally identical sight. It is this subtle analogy between the viewer's sojourn in the projection area where the eternal recurrence of the same is put on stage and the sojourn of every human being in 'real life', that makes Andrew Daneman’s works so engrossing and human. Here the inner unity between life and art is mooted anew - perhaps, the oldest Utopia of them all.


Andrew Daneman, artist biography
Andrew Daneman (b. 1953, Chicago) first visited Denmark in 1970, followed by several years in schools and living on a Danish ‘Kollektiv’. He studied photography and design at Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles from 1975-77.

Daneman began taking pictures in 1970/71 and with inspiration and instruction from John Reed Forsman chose photography as a career. In the beginning they worked together feverishly on an exhibition in Viborg, Denmark, which was stylistically well ahead of itself. After another exhibition in 1973, Daneman concluded that the audience misunderstood entirely what he aimed to communicate at the time, and decided to stop showing. He never the less continued working and experimenting for the next 35 years with his imagery in both personal and commercial projects, as his photographic imagery evolved.

After several meeting with curators from Denmark, England, US and Portugal, and after he decided to conclude his commercial work, he decided to concentrate on his personal production. Since he recently began showing the work to today's viewers – both art collectors and general public - the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Therefore his work is now at a point where the message of the work needs to be spread to a wider audience.

At first sight, one might think ‘but we don’t know his work. Who is he?’ At a better inspection of his work, the answer is quite simple. We are faced with high quality work, which speaks about everyday life, about people, about realities. Daneman looks and interprets reality, questioning us about our own lives and that’s essential to the role of an artist in society. Therefore, it would be a huge mistake to keep these works in a drawer.