The Corona pandemic has fundamentally changed the way people live together. The public space appears as a source of danger under the contact restrictions and this causes a collective retreat into the private sphere. What will life be like after the pandemic? Will there be a return to the mass culture that has shaped our society in recent decades? With this question in mind, I sifted through my image archives since the 1980s during the lockdown, scanned hundreds of analogue colour negatives and developed the book and exhibition project CROWDS.
This creates an image of this time in which the human being is the focus of interest, with all his or her social imprints, collective integration and media influences. In my photographs, the human being does not get lost in an ornament of the masses and does not appear as an individual detached from all contexts. In multi-layered colour photographs in the style of street photography, complex networks of relationships become visible of people in groups of the most diverse kind. I took them at events in the context of politics, sport, religion, tourism and entertainment.
However, the character of the events is surprisingly similar, as they all seek their attraction in a flood of stimuli. Covid 19 has put an abrupt end to this spectacle. Besides all the disastrous effects, this forced pause in an overexcited mass culture can also have a positive aspect. With the CROWDS project, I want to question the central interests of human beings in a self-determined life.
Solo exhibitions
2023 Mittendrin
Köln 1986-1993, fotografiert von Wolfgang Zurborn
Neumarkt, Köln, Germany
28 Jun 2023 - 28 Aug 2023
2022 Crowds
Internationales Fotofest Kaiserslautern
Kaiserslautern, Germany
2021 Crowds
Urban Design Parcours, PhotoBookDummy Screening
The PhotoBookMuseum, Köln, Germany


People Pictures – Picture People

Reality as a Colourful Collage

by Jan Thorn Prikker

Crowds attract Cologne photographer Wolfgang Zurborn. His large colour pictures (80x100 cm) have been presented at Essen’s Folkwang Museum (1987) and in individual shows (1991) at Munich’s Stadtmuseum and Nuremberg’s Centrum Industriekultur. The 37 year-old Zurborn thereby gained a good reputation on the contemporary German photographic scene.

Wolfgang Zurborn has developed an original style, which combines documentary aspects with a strikingly subjective way of seeing. His colour photos are charged with contemporaneity to the brim. They erupt with colourfulness, and abound with gestures of exalted vitality and action – with human beings seen within the context of crowds. Carnivals, street festivities, the artificial worlds of leisure parks, open-air festivals, or sportsgrounds offer the occasions where this photographer moves among people with his camera.

Zurborn’s pictures are stylistically recognisable through their unusual deployment of a wide-angle lens in close-ups. The fact that he mostly uses a flash even in daylight endows his photographs with a hyper-real artificiality. The flash dissolves the depth of field perspective in favour of an ultra-contoured flatness. That pulls the pictures fore- and background together in an unreal way. Reality suddenly seems like a collage of chance objects that do not fit together.

Even though the people in these pictures are never alone and are almost always photographed from very close, no-one ever seems to have discovered the photographer. They are so preoccupied with struggling for self assertion in a jungle of gestures and actions that no time is left for attentive registration of what is happening to them. One even has the feeling of still being able to hear the hysterical aural backgrounds that must have accompanied many of the scenes captured on film. Perhaps these scenes from a theatre of the absurd exert a surrealistic impact just because all sounds are absent from this hyper-activity frozen in photos.

Their synthetic colourfulness constitutes a powerful element within the impact exerted by these pictures. A kind of collective, colourful, holiday outfit forces even the most shapeless bodies into clothes in which athletes could mount the victor’s podium. In the settings of this endless theatre the lacquer never flakes off. A multi-coloured merriment imposes uniformity, and at the same time presents people as submerged in a sea of strangeness. One can only wonder at the degree of distance these photos incorporate within the narrow confines of their format.

Wolfgang Zurborn’s photographs tend towards collage despite their documentary aspects. Their chaos of forms and wealth of colour tend to become independent. It is not therefore surprising that that in his more recent work the photographer has linked several shots to form stripe-like visual conjunctions. These operate with a tendency towards the chaotic, working towards that trough the compositional aspects of form and colour. The documentary element is a remnant, only recognisable if one look more closely. In this new work the transition from subjective documentary photography to free artistry is complete.