Mettig, Klaus

Born 1950 in Brandenburg, Germany, lives in Düsseldorf

The aim is clear: to show “the functioning and mechanism of global politics”. In the first photo, we see two figures wrapped in blankets, lying on the ground in front of a tiled wall, probably somewhere in the New York subway, on the second, an Indian in a Buddha-like pose in the middle of waste and filth in New Delhi. Two photos, two locations, thousands of kilometres apart, with two destinies. What do they have in common, and what separates them? And what did globalisation do for them? These are questions that Klaus Mettig is so obsessively trying to answer on his trips around the world.

Mettig began in the 1970s to erect giant walls of photos documenting political life, on which a single image changes into a trivial detail of world events. Between 1978 and 1981, he photographed a television screen with an installed camera—2500 TV screens were created with an overall length of 65 metres. Four years of world events are documented on them, all of them containing titles such as “Don’t forget the Prague Spring”, “Estrogen in baby food”, photos of Farah Diba, James Dean, Helmut Schmidt, Rudi Dutschke, or the photo of Tito standing in front of a map of Yugoslavia with the title “Zustand ernst” (Critical condition)—whose condition does it refer to, Tito’s or Yugoslavia’s?

However, since the 1980s, Mettig has focused on the problems of globalisation and skilfully visualises them as large panoramic images. Whether he photographs the forests of Bhutan, an urban conglomeration in the desert near Dubai, a shantytown with tin roofs in Kathmandu, New York avenues, or Shanghai and Delhi, centres of Asian turbo-capitalism, where today is already yesterday’s future—he is always looking for traces that civilisation leaves behind in nature and what humans have inherited from modern progress which has forcefully encroached upon the most remote places in the world. He shows a world where fashion from the west pushes out the traditional ornate attire, so that in the middle of a palm grove, Britney Spears stares at us from a T-shirt, where cheap and quickly erected houses are gouged into the formerly tree-lined hillsides and change them into a concrete desert, where idyllic coves are changed into vile sewers.

Mettig published the photos documenting this development in the book Don’t Be Left Behind. The forests of Bhutan, blocks of flats in Shanghai, skyscrapers of Beijing—after looking at such a book, it might seem better to stay a little bit behind the times.