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Underground Portraits – Photobook Café Gallery, UK

4 Jul — 7 Jul 2024

Underground Portraits / Wolfgang Strassl

  • Thursday, July 4, 2024–Sunday, July 7, 2024
  • PHOTO BOOK CAFE, 4 Leonard Circus, London, England, EC2A 4DQ, United Kingdom

Wolfgang Strassl is a German-born photographer who divides his time between his home city of Munich and his adopted second home, London. With a background in economics, Strassl is interested in human interaction within the prevailing social systems, urban spaces, and environments and how they determine the characteristics and conditions of human existence.   He has published several photobooks on urban landscapes and the human interaction with the environment, including Arcadian Sketchbook, Hinterhof and Underground Portraits. He is a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society (FRPS) and was awarded the Bronze medal by Deutscher Fotobuchpreis in 2018 for Homeland, his reflection on the urban and natural landscapes of East Jerusalem.

Despite a population of 9 million inhabitants, London is not even among the top 30 most populous cities in the world, yet it is often considered to be one of the most cosmopolitan capitals. This is vividly reflected in its public transport system, and especially the London Underground – commonly referred to as ‘the Tube’ – on which over 3 million journeys are made every day and where people of different ages, genders, social classes, faiths, ethnicities, nationalities and sexual orientations sit and stand in close proximity to each other, coexisting in both their similarity and diversity all at once.

In a response to this multicultural urban phenomenon, the photographer Wolfgang Strassl has created a series of unique portraits of his fellow passengers on the London Underground, in which he chooses to focus not on their faces, but on their bodies. By excluding the face from the portrait altogether, Strassl presents us with an experience that appears, on one level, unapologetically intrusive. We can stare without sanction at the commuters and make our own judgements about them, whatever these may be. Yet, on another level, by delving into what our clothing, belongings and body posture can overtly or subconsciously divulge about us, Strassl confronts us with the bare reality of what it is like to be one of a multitude of passengers at close quarters with each other, whose visual appearance may make an unintended impression on others. Strassl sees the London Underground as a uniquely democratic social space, which gives us the opportunity to examine our own probing gaze and, through it, confront ourselves.

‘Strassl’s gaze directed at the passengers on the London Underground may, at first, appear quite intrusive – voyeuristic even – but his gaze is deeply humanistic. His portraits speak to that most common human characteristic, inquisitiveness. He is chiefly motivated by examining what makes us human, how we respond to our environments and how we, ultimately, shape them and how we shape each other,’ says the curator, Kasia Kowalska.

‘Underground Portraits’ is curated by Kasia Kowalska, a Polish-born photographic artist living and working in London. She is a British Journal of Photography’s Portrait of Britain winner and Association of Photographers Student Awards winner. She graduated in BA Photography from London Metropolitan University. She is the curator of Family Ties photography exhibition at The Gallery Café in St. Margaret’s House in July 2024.

The exhibition is accompanied by Underground Portraits photobook published by KERBER VERLAG, which includes 45 colour illustrations and an introduction by the renowned curator and author Zelda Cheatle.

‘Strassl has created a document about social equality in the 21st century, the democracy of the underground passenger. He has made this series on the London Underground, but now I will think and look carefully at all the places we are bound together; caught, suspended, assembled, in subways, lifts, on escalators, in airports, airplanes, trains, buses, and think of the gaze of Wolfgang Strassl,’ writes Zelda Cheatle in Introduction.

Socials: @londonundergroundportraits @kasia_kowalska_photography

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