Daniel Stier’s new self-published book, A Tale of One City, offers a singular portrait of twenty-first century London. For those unfamiliar with its architecture and urban life, however, it might take them a while to situate the work. Most photographs seem to be shot under bright sunlight; a weather phenomenon rather unusual in the British capital. But as we look further into the book, we may find some hints of its geographic location, such as the pound symbol or a widely recognisable landscape of London’s financial district. Should the doubt persist, an informative review of the work by Marvin Heiferman, printed in the last three pages, finally confirms our guess.
The photographs depict a combination of construction sites, luxury products, mass consumer goods and the belongings of various rough sleepers left behind in the city streets. These four differentiated strands of pictures, mixed-up throughout the book, intend to offer an account of what London is today. Printed at exactly the same size and all shot in vertical format, the highly-contrasted photographs feature bright-candy colours similar to those found in glossy magazines. Whether façades, mannequins, bananas or diamonds, the elements in each image are delicately balanced within the frame, while the radical cropping of certain objects adds a sense of absurdity to some of the scenes.
At its core, Stier’s project tackles some of the social and economic issues that define the nature of metropolitan existence.…the book serves as a much-needed reminder of the deeply rooted cruelty of capitalist ideology, often accepted in defence of a global economic coexistence for the benefit of all.
At its core, Stier’s project tackles some of the social and economic issues that define the nature of metropolitan existence. Multiculturalism, consumerism, urban expansion and class struggle, are all present in large cities from the Western world and beyond. But this, by no means, makes of the publication yet another anti-globalisation cliché. On the contrary, the book serves as a much-needed reminder of the deeply rooted cruelty of capitalist ideology, often accepted in defence of a global economic coexistence for the benefit of all. It must be remembered that London was at the epicentre of the housing bubble explosion of 2007, one of the most dramatic economic crises of the recent period, the consequences of which still reverberate in the pockets of millions of families and small businesses around the world. Alongside this, perhaps without much intention, some of the images also point at the country’s imperial past. The cultural differences represented through everyday consumer products remind us of the forced migration of colonised subjects to imperial land, following the exploitation of their territory and the disruption of native ways of existence.
In addition to the sky-scrapers and designer products depicted in some of the photographs, the artist achieves a further sense of ‘excess’ through the very material design of the book. Ironically, the expensive hardback, with its cloth cover and engraved title, turn the publication into another luxury product. After turning the first page, however, a nicely written, yet tragic short story by David Campany, serves to immediately shift the tone of the book. Some of the objects we are about to see may not (and will not) last forever. And just as easily as one might observe them – or if we are lucky, get to enjoy them – all these commodities are likely to vanish rapidly in the event of a crisis, or indeed, a no-longer-unprecedented world-wide pandemic. The interplay between Campany’s opening text and Stier’s photographs of London suggests that, after all, both human life and the capitalist system are constantly facing the same burden, that is; an unavoidable, extreme fragility.