Privacy Note: Source uses cookies or similar technologies to analyze trends, administer the website, track users’ movement around the website and to gather demographic information about our user base as a whole. The technology used to collect information automatically from Source Users may include cookies, web beacons, and embedded scripts. In addition, we and our analytics providers (such as Google), and service providers (such as PayPal and Mailchimp) may use a variety of other technologies that collect similar information for security and fraud detection purposes and we may use third parties to perform these services on our behalf. If you continue to use this site, you agree that we can place these types of cookies on your device. 

Source Photographic Review - Back Issue Archive - Issue 27 Summer 2001 - Book Review Page - Bismarck in America by Dirk Reinartz - Book Review by Gavin Murphy.

Bismarck in America by Dirk Reinartz
Book Review by Gavin Murphy

Source - Issue 27 - Summer - 2001 - Click for Contents

Issue 27 Summer 2001
View Contents ▸

Bismarck in America by Dirk Reinartz
Published by: Steidl
ISBN: 3-88243-686-7
Price: £15.99

It has been said that America was created in the hope of escaping history. Dirk Reinartz's book, Bismarck in America, explores this by setting photographs of Bismarck, a smalt town in North Dakota, against the legacy of Otto von Bismarck, the nineteenth century architect of the German Empire. In so doing, Reinartz produces a body of photographs that is the stuff of modern horror.

The book begins with pristine images of (sub)urban America and ends with images stalked by the corpse of history. It opens with images of signs welcoming viewers and visitors to the town. The utopian theme is signaled by clean expanses of roadway under clear, blue skies. The state library is then introduced in all its classical grandeur. The horizon in each image is set low as if one should be in awe of all that has been achieved through rational planning and classical ideals. Images capture a pride born of inheritance as if the ideals of enlightened Europe have been honed through the fortune of a fresh start.

Only then are such visions undercut. It becomes apparent that this is a town rid of pedestrians. It is a town of trucks, pick-ups and cars, a town of drive-throughs and parkades. It is a town - or to be more precis-e, a culture - built around the motorcar. When people are visible, they are either mending roads or, if outside a car, appear as estranged lunatics. The horror is finally complete when the image of the Bismarck Civic - Center appears. There is not a soul in sight, just an empty expanse of a car lot before this modern pantheon. It is at this point that the slight sullen tone of each image makes sense. The images produce a chilling scene of neo-liberal America freewheeling to a destiny it once remembered it had been making.

Bismarck in America is therefore to be found near the border between utopia and dystopia, not far from the likes of Baudrillard. Where Baudrillard evoked the sublime for his sophistic defence of America, the historical anchor of Bismarck tensions Reinartz's visions of amnesia. Only slowly do themes of imperial destiny and utopian ideals emerge through the pages. The suspense is one of irony as the story unfolds a dawning memory of a world forgetting.

One problem though, is that this is a story told too often. These images replicate the same self-critical tones at the heart of American photographic culture. In fact, this is everyone's critique of America! We forget that ubiquity is also a modern horror. Hence a preference for the cheeky polemic of Baudrillard's America. He's completely wrong but at least he winds you up.

Other articles by Gavin Murphy:

Other articles on photography from the 'Urban' category ▸