[See the note about Ghetto vs Shanzhai at the bottom of the post.]
When I undertook this Ghetto Gursky experiment last week, immediacy felt important: to use just the best image I could find online rather than scanning a catalogue, for example. And printing with the quickest, point&clickiest online service I could find. The constraints would then be the focus: the “accuracy” and veracity of the image that circulates freely [approximated here by resolution]; and the ability to instantly print large-format photos in the dimensions that were once so startling and rare, they were only available to, well, Gurskys.
Literally, though, no sooner did I place my order than I realized this generated complications. Printing at 5×6 feet, the rough dimensions of Gursky’s Rhein (1996), is actually beyond the capacity of most instant printers, at least those of the vanilla consumer variety. [It’s trivial to print a vinyl banner at that size, though, but this wasn’ what I wanted.]
Which is all a long way of saying that the Ghetto Gursky test print just arrived today. It turns out that my immediate vendor choice meant it was printed in California and groundshipped. But it came rolled nicely in a large tube, and it made it perfectly intact. So that’s all good.
First impression: ghetto fabulous. Turns out high-production photography has an uncanny valley effect, too. It’s on thick photo paper, with a nice finish. The colors are true [to the JPG I used, anyway]. Standing in front of/over it, the similarity to a Gursky is surprising.
Looking closely, though, yields its expected rewards, just the way Hito Steyerl likes it: “resolutely compromised: blurred, amateurish, and full of artifacts.” Without algorithmic smoothing or some kind of image-massaging resolution upgrade, there are pink, pixellated passages in the sky [above].
And there are a couple of greyish digital artifacts floating in the grass as well. I was going to say that the Ghetto Rhein does not have any of the crisp focus of Gursky’s original, but I don’t actually know that to be true. I haven’t stood up close with Rhein lately, but I’m not so sure that mid-90s C-prints actually have the grainless clarity I see/imagine in my memory. As with Prince’s Untitled (Cowboy) and the life-sized Untitled (300×404) print, I’d really like to see them side by side.
But the other issue, which popped up immediately, by which point it was too late, is mounting. There was no obvious, immediate, self-serve online place for facemounting a print that size on plexi. So now it’s up to me to track someplace down, and get it done. At which point, I’ll be schlepping a 5×6 print around. And soon enough, it’ll be basically 6×7 framed. And then it gets a crate, and then it’ll need a Sprinter van, and then it’s practically a Gursky, alike in every way except its street value.
[NOTE: Though the use was more common at the time, I grew uncomfortable with the racist origins and implications of the colloquial use of “ghetto” for these works. I changed it to “shanzhai,” a Cantonese term which originally described unabashed counterfeit consumer goods; this usage has since shifted toward a hackier, scrappy innovation, but for these works, the original meaning pertains. I have kept the original uses of ghetto rather than delete them to acknowledge the blinkered social context I was also complicit in.]