Jan Staller became fascinated with construction sites as a young child. Now 58, he has turned this fascination into a haunting body of photography. But although his work focuses on man-made landscapes, these aren’t the industrious environments of, say, Edward Burtynsky – they’re abstract, unearthly, poised outside context.
“The kind of qualities I see in construction sites are sculptural,” says Staller, who cites the monumental land artists Michael Heizer and Robert Smithson as influences. “They were all working with these industrial materials … Their works sensitised my aesthetic to the potential of construction sites to resonate beyond their workaday functions.”
Part of the eeriness of the photographs stems from their desertion. This is a product of circumstance – Staller tends to visit the sites after hours – but also a choice, to make the images more formal than journalistic. “One thing that I require of my work is not just to simply be descriptive,” Staller says. “I don’t want to say, ‘This is what construction is about,’ I want the photograph to transcend that … it’s interpretative, I want to express rather than describe. To have a worker there would root the thing more in procedure.”
But despite their stillness and depopulation, these scenes are charged with a sense of transformation and impermanence. They are simultaneously monumental and transient, caught between states, ambiguous moments in time balanced between progress and decay.