Beat Streuli b. 1957, Atdorf, Switzerland
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Purchased with funds contributed by the Photography Committee, 2006
Beat Streuli. Installation view: Bruxelles Midi, Murray Guy, New York, September 15–October 28, 2006
For over 15 years, Beat Streuli has produced spontaneous images of everyday people from large cities. Using a telephoto lens and natural light, the artist takes frontal shots of anonymous pedestrians who become his unwitting subjects as they cross streets, push strollers, catch buses, or in other words, as they go about the business of their daily lives. Streuli's work has much in common with traditional genres of picture taking, such as documentary photography, but it is not his intention to use these portraits as vehicles for social criticism, chronicles of typologies, or ruminations on exoticism. Even though many of his subjects represent identities quite distinct from his own, Streuli seeks to capture differences and commonalities in their realities and experiences in as neutral a manner as possible: "You see people with lives very different from yours, and also people with lives similar to yours, having a sudden glimpse of a range of possibilities, ways of life, that makes me very curious, because after all, we only have one life and will not be able to experience many other possibilities . . . I look for public spaces where you can have a glimpse of the personal aspects of their lives."¹
The element of the personal informed Bruxelles Midi (2006), a series of photographic portraits made in Brussels at the Bruxelles-Midi railway station and a nearby market, both of which are situated in proximity to the largely Muslim immigrant neighborhood where the artist lived at that time. The choice of locale distinguishes this work from a majority of his projects made during his travels to cities around the globe, including London, Osaka, Sydney, and Tel Aviv. When first displayed, Bruxelles Midi was shown as a floor-to-ceiling wallpaper installation. The series of pictures Streuli selected for this piece come together to form both a set of snapshots of individuals traversing public space and a continuous group portrait of a given time and place, namely Brussels at midday. The immersive environment created by this strip of images implicated the viewer in a scenario that is simultaneously foreign and familiar.
Adaptable by nature to a given site, this and other works by Streuli can be presented in a variety of contexts, ranging from the white walls of the museum or gallery to the advertising space of urban billboards to the facades of buildings. By inserting these portraits into the cityscape, Streuli transforms them into mirrors, reflecting the everyday lives of passersby as well as the social implications of urban interactions.
1. Beat Streuli, interview by Alessandra Pace, in Beat Streuli: Portraits 98–00, la bella estate, GAM: Galleria civica d'arte moderna e contemporanea, Turin, exh. cat. (Turin: Hopefulmonster, 2000).