Eyestorm, London, United Kingdom

InsideOut by Catherine Gfeller

Catherine Gfeller Biography

Neuchatel, Switzerland, 1966

'I see the outside world as an animated, living painting on a monumental scale,' says Catherine Gfeller. Yet after studying art history, she chose to become not a painter but a photographer because, as she says, photography has a 'vital, direct connection with the real world'.

Nevertheless, her photographs are predicated on issues of color, composition and rhythm, and are imbued with a strong painterly quality. This is emphasized by the fact that she tends to print on textured paper, thereby breaking up the sheen of the typical photographic image and creating a hybrid of mediums. Gfeller's early landscapes make sportive reference to abstract painting in particular; her color-saturated images of rolling cornfields and verdant grasses show how nature can so easily appear abstract, and how our knowledge of art history can be reflected back onto the natural world. In her photographs of cities, art-historical references are everywhere: from an evident fascination with color harmonies, to a frontal compositional style redolent of early Renaissance frescoes.

In Gfeller's photographs of New York City the issue of pictorial rhythm is paramount, but its effect goes beyond formalism into a virtual mimesis of the city's atmosphere. In elongated compositions, made up of connected imagistic strips that show the same scene or stretch of sidewalk from different angles or different moments in time, Gfeller echoes the discontinuous, herky-jerky vibrancy of the Big Apple. The inbuilt geometry of this gridded city makes it possible for Gfeller to chop columns and shop windows into narrow, vertical frames and place them beside each other to make long, seemingly continuous friezes - reminiscent of film strips in their condensation of time - or tall, narrow towers of imagery. Only when one stops to look closely at them does one realize that these works, though seamlessly printed, are essentially collages.

This echoes one characteristic of traveling through the streets of Manhattan - fractured sights cohering into a single experience. Several of Gfeller's images even refer overtly to the way memory functions in such an atmosphere. In a vertical fugue of images made up of double-exposed views of people walking down a city street, a black girl in sunglasses and a Japanese girl recur, carefully woven into the pictorial composition. In this way, Gfeller creates a visual 'beat' through repetition and also reflects on the way that one can glance quickly at someone passing by and have his or her image stay in one's mind.

The artist captures what she describes as New York's 'reflections, mirrorings, double spaces and juxtapositions' and replicates the feeling one has, when wandering around its streets, of catching interesting sights on the wing. But Gfeller does not simply create an analogue of Manhattan's kinetic buzz; longer viewing reveals a profusion of visual puns and finesses embedded in the work. The way that Gfeller, when creating a sliced portrayal of a street, lingers over and repeats a sign reading 'Episode' is a reflexive admission of the episodic nature of her formal structures; a photograph of people standing outside the play Rent condenses levels of reality so that the people pictured in hoardings for the show seem as real as the blurry people congregating on the sidewalk.

After making her New York photos, in the late 90s Gfeller turned her attention to another iconic city - Paris. The very different results demonstrate her sensitivity to the nature of cities. In her Paris photos light is softer, silvery and ethereal, and Gfeller chooses to focus on people in relation to ancient architecture, exploring the subtext of the modern individual's relationship to tradition. Again, there are doublings and elisions; when a motorcyclist, seen as a blurred figure, rides past some carved faces inscribed into a stone column, an interrelation is created between live figure and statue. Gfeller also destabilizes the geometric solidity that characterized her earlier work; a repeated view of an architectural façade is printed at a slight angle whose eccentricity counterweights the pictorial rectangle.

Evident in all her images of cities, the beauty of Gfeller's work is its almost touristy openness to the tenor of the surrounding world, allied to a flexibility of format and a percolating visual wit. Her great strength is to see the city and its denizens as comprising a constant, ongoing play - something she has described as an 'urban ritual'. In adopting this perspective, and adapting her photography to it, she endows over-determined imagery with fresh significance and allows us to see the world with new eyes.

selected resume

Selected Awards

Bourse de la Fondation Bogliasco, Centro Studi Ligure, Italy, 2000

Prix, de la Fondation CCF pour la Photographie, Paris, 1999

Prix de la Fondation culturelle, Banque cantonale , Neuchatel, 1995

Prix 'Kunstfoto', International Fotofestival, Knokke-Heist, Belgium, 1994

Prix 'Societa Dante Alighieri', Florence, Italy, 1991


Swiss Foundation for Photography, Kunsthaus, Zurich, Switzerland

Swiss National Bank, Zurich, Switzerland

Credit Suisse, Geneve, Switzerland

Viart Corporation, New York

Fondation CCF pour la Photographic, Paris


Keitelmann Fine Arts, Brussels, Belgium, 2001

Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Dijon (Fondation CCF Photographic), France, 2000

'One-man-show', FIAC 2000, Galerie Carzaniga + Ueker, Paris, 2000

Galerie Ruth Bachofner, Los Angeles, USA, 1999

Centre Lem, Geneve, Switzerland, 1994


'Art Miami', (Alexia Goethe Fine Arts), Miami, USA, 2001

'Lubjana 24th Biennal', Ljubljana, Slovenia, 2001

'Beyond Landscape', Schneider Gallery, Chicago, USA, 1999

'New York Visions', Michael Ingbar Gallery, New York, 1998

'Group Exhibition', Photoforum Pasquart, Bienne, Switzerland, 1993


Dassonville, Aude, 'La pomme en eclats', France Soir, Paris, 2000

Jeanneret, Pascale, 'Catherine Gfeller: Urban Rituals', Verso, Paris, 2000

Catherine Gfeller, catalogue d'exposition, Editions Galerie Carzaniga + Ueker, Bale, Switzerland, 2000

Urs Stahel, Catherine Gfeller, La ville, un corps sensible, Galerie Carzaniga + Ueker, Basel, Switzerland, 1999

Smith, R, 'Aerial Perspectives: Reality, Abstraction, Imagination', New York Times, New York, 1997

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