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Constructing worlds
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Constructing worlds

At the start of the new year, while we’re still full of reflections of what has passed and thoughts of the future, it seems fitting to visit the fantastic ‘Constructing Worlds’ exhibition at London’s Barbican Centre. Now in its final days, the exhibition showcases 18 photographers from 1930 to now, shining a light on growth, decay and human ingenuity.

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Curators Alona Pardo & Elias Redstone, Constructing Worlds © Chris Jackson, Getty Images

Be ready to go on a journey as you wander from room to room, starting with portraits of half-built New York skyscrapers by Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Ever wondered what the Rockefeller Centre or Triborough bridge looked like during construction, or how the Manhattan borough of Murray Hill used to look in 1935? It feels as if Abbott has captured precious moments in the history of the city that never sleeps, just before it became insomniac perhaps or while in the midst of a fitful architectural revolution.

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Berenice Abbott, Constructing Worlds installation images © Chris Jackson, Getty Images

In what is surely a deliberately stark contrast, the next room includes portraits of West Virginia by Walker Evans (1903-1975), proclaiming to explore the “vernacular characteristic of the Deep South”. Next up, is California and a portrayal of kitsch 1960s and 70s, followed by the likes of Lucien Herve, Ed Ruscha and Stephen Shore. The Financial Times called this a “landmark Barbican exhibition” and it’s not hard to see why, as this incongruous and beautiful deconstruction of construction passes its eye over various nations and eras, leaving the viewer impressed, if not stunned, by less than a century of change.

Be prepared for the wow factor in depictions of airports, night clubs and the stock exchange by Andreas Gursky (born 1955); a man renowned for making monumental photographs depicting the landscapes and structures of late capitalism. This perhaps is preparation for the blurred and arresting photographs by Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto (born 1948) which are described as “architecture after the end of the world”. Lest you should feel too melancholic, their post-apocalyptic tone is quickly followed by Iwan Baan’s colourful depictions of downtown Caracas where all of life seems present in a single shot.

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Iwan Baan, Constructing Worlds installation images © Chris Jackson, Getty Images

‘Constructing Worlds: Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age’ runs until 11 January 2015 at The Barbican Centre Art Gallery. For more information, visit: www.barbican.org.uk/