this issue contains
>> Between Bridges
>> Beat Streuli
>> More than Meets the Eye
>> It's so hardcore! A Mexican Diary

>> archive

The Cruel Radiance of Glamour:
Beat Streuli’s View of Urban Pedestrians

Beat Streuli, New York 01, 2002
Deutsche Bank Collection, (c)The Artist. Courtesy Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zürich

Ordinary passers-by radiate in his large-scale photographs like anonymous stars. For years, Swiss artist Beat Streuli has been photographing people in major cities around the world: office employees, kids, joggers, workers, managers, housewives. Streuli’s images endow their subjects with an incongruous glamour; at the same time, the zoom lens seems to reveal a violence and force residing in everyday life. Brigitte Werneburg visited Streuli in his adopted city Brussels.

Beat Streuli, Krakow October 05, 2005
Courtesy Galerie Wilma Tolksdorf and Beat Streuli

Brussels is grey these days, on the weekend of the art fair. But the fair is not where I’m headed. I’m going to meet Beat Streuli, who has been living here in the Belgian capital for the past three years, alternating with his other home in Dusseldorf.

Streuli’s apartment is in the old part of the city, a lively area with narrow streets that haven’t yet been hit by the typical inner-city renovation boom. "In a certain respect", he says, gazing around, "the city is a miniature version of Berlin", not least due to the cheap rents. A hazy sky like the one above Brussels right now does not appear in Streuli’s works. Everything seems steeped in a bright light, in an almost crystalline clarity. Maybe that’s why a sentence keeps coming to mind by the American journalist James Agee that I recently read: "the aspect of a street in sunlight can roar in the heart of itself as a symphony, perhaps as no symphony can." To my mind, this perfectly expresses the special secret of Streuli’s work and the enduring fascination for his photographs and video films. His latest works can currently be seen in Berlin and Leipzig.

Beat Streuli, Martinique, o.J.
Deutsche Bank Collection,

Looking at a sun-drenched street, Agee remarks, shifts attention "from the revisive to the effort to perceive simply the cruel radiance of what is." Nowhere is this cruel radiance captured as precisely as in Beat Streuli’s work. He finds it in the people populating the light-imbued streets in the major cities of the world; in the individual, whom he photographs with a zoom lens in the midst of the moving masses. His photographs deliver a valid definition: the cruel glow is glamour. People walking through the major cities of the world look good in his work. The close crop, with its extreme contrast in depth of field between background and foreground, emphasizes this effect: people’s hair shines in the light, their skin glows like velvet, and they look fashionable with their expensive sunglasses, headphones, and more recently cell phones, all of which enhances the fresh, modern liveliness of the urban scene. Yet the special attraction of their gestures, gait, and facial expressions, both individually and in relation to one another, also lies in the absent-minded, self-evident way in which they move through their everyday lives.

Beat Streuli, Osaka, 2003
©Beat Streuli, 2004 and Galerie Conrads, Düsseldorf

It has often been remarked that Streuli has a positive attitude towards the people he covertly photographs. He concedes that his images are easily recognized in the bright, sober living spaces among the generous modern furniture. "I think it’s the insistence in my view. One always notices a certain itch, a fascination. Actually, though, when people see one of my photographs somewhere, it’s hard to figure out why they immediately know that it’s a Streuli."

Beat Streuli, Osaka, 2003
©Beat Streuli, 2004 and Galerie Conrads, Düsseldorf

Yet this strong position does not yield psychological portraits. Beat Streuli gazes with a certain indifference at the urban environment in which people, architecture, transportation, and advertising constitute a densely interwoven interacting surface pattern. And it’s on this surface that glamour’s "cruel" radiance is born – the radiance that Beat Streuli seeks to record in his work.

Beat Streuli, New York, New York, 2000/2002
Deutsche Bank Collection,

[1] [2] [3]