The City in the Urban Age
photographs and text from
Noorderlicht Photofestival 2011
On 23 May, 2007, the world was able to celebrate the beginning of the urban millennium. On that date, for the first time in history, more of the world's population lived in a city than in a rural area: 3.3 billion people, on just three percent of the earth's surface.
Metropolis – City Life in the Urban Age is the second part of a diptych which examines the consequence of this development, first for the countryside, and now for the city.
Urbanization is nothing new, but never before has population growth in urban areas been as rapid as it has been in recent decades. It is a trend which, according to United Nations' demographers, will continue through the middle of this century. More than ever before, the city has become the place
where the culture and morality of mankind are being shaped – notions about life which, thanks to digitization and globalization, are being exported far beyond the cities themselves.
The exhibition Metropolis – City Life in the Urban Age exposes the many faces of the modern Großstadt (Big City): from the squashed commuters in the Tokyo subway to the fire-prone slums of Dhaka, from the biggest buildings to the most intimate details of individual lives.
In both form and content, Noorderlicht breaks new ground with this exhibition. The problems and possibilities of cities around the world are revealed in six chapters, each of which emphasizes a specific element of urban living. In three of these chapters man is central, and the city is the backdrop. In the other three the city itself is the star, and man a detail. The appendix focuses on the question of how people can find their way in such a complex environment. One has one's own sense of this quest, the navigation, moving through the extensive series – becoming acquainted with the city, processing the impressions, the contemplation and investigating.
Photographers, like journalists, are inclined to focus on problems. That is logical: unless one becomes conscious of them, one will not easily face up to wrongs. Yet it is important to show that
the city is more than its problems. Although, as befits Noorderlicht, all of these series have a social component, Metropolis is an interplay of various atmospheres, diverse points of view and new ways of looking. The exhibition and the catalogue are a reflection of the fragmentary nature of the modern city and modern life, without losing sight of the fact that the city must serve man, and not the city.
A city of images has been built from work that is sometimes purely documentary in character, and sometimes balances on the boundary of art and design. That city is created from the knowledge that urbanization and its results is a process that concerns everyone, because the city is the place where the future for all of us is being made.
This year the Noorderlicht Photofestival runs from September 11 to October 9. Learn more about the festival here.