Looking at the five images that Edwin Zwakman has contributed to a new exhibition, Tales From the Grid, at the Q Gallery in Derby, you’d be forgiven for thinking that he was just another contemporary photographer with an eye for documenting the modern cityscape. In a way, he is – but it’s the way he goes about making his pictures that separates him from the conventions of urban photography: all of Zwakman’s images are of painstakingly constructed models, assembled from memory.
The 35-year-old Zwakman was recently voted one of the 21 most important photographers of the 21st century by Contemporary Magazine.
“As I reconstruct the world, I work entirely from memory,” he explains. “I never use photographs or other reference material. All the places, objects and buildings I have seen morph into new variations. Scale and perspective change as well: the images do not show what one could photograph in such situations, but how one experiences and remembers them.”
In one image, an office block is reflected in a puddle on a pavement. To achieve this look, Zwakman covered ceramic tiles with layers of chalk and dust to create the stonework effect which allowed water to collect in puddles, making the the scene more realistic. Silver reflective cardboard was used to create the office block.
“In a way they are more like paintings where information is also processed by the artist before landing on the canvas. The result does not show a 60th of a second of reality, but the sum of a lot of moments and angles.”
This shot, apparently of a modern multi-storey car park in Holland, was created by assembling some wooden toy blocks into a distinctive Dutch design and hand painting them to look like concrete. Even the model cars inside the structure were glazed with a transparent layer of white paint to suggest atmospheric perspectives.
And this pylon is actually just 50cm tall, made from everyday materials bought from shops around Derbyshire. Approximately 400 pieces of copper, soldered together individually, make up the pylon while the electric cables are made from vinyl. Cotton wool surrounds the trees in the distance.
Zwakman came to international prominence a few years ago, creating controversial images of vehicles adorned in the livery of UN in unusual places such as peaceful cities in France, Finland, Lithuania and Switzerland.