The ten panoramic photographs which make up Paul Ferman’s Shelter series reveal a fractured sense of time and space. The initial imagery was completed during different train trips, in 2005 and 2007, from London to Paris and from France to Germany, during which the artist sat by the window with his camera and photographed road bridges from below as the trains hurtled to their destinations. Later in his Sydney studio, Ferman created new diptychs from these photographs, manipulating the colours, reversing the imagery, creating mirrored compositions from similar-looking railway bridges in different countries. The bridge has long been used as a metaphor, but instead, Ferman focuses on the disparity of usage, specifically the hidden spaces below bridges.
This is the underbelly of contemporary engineering, looking at the negative spaces aligned to transport and commerce. These are non-spaces, used by people forced to the edges of society and at the margins of architecture. Ferman’s is a social comment, in which nothing is presented as real, where the colours are exaggerated to signify a surreal vision of nature and unhinged space. “The real idea is how our idea of space and real estate changes, from a time when an overhanging rock or a cave was seen as first-class accommodation at the early stages of man’s development, to a time when similar structures in the urban landscape – the undersides of bridges – have become shelters for the homeless and the fringes of society, spaces used for semi-legitimate reasons, for drugs and prostitution,” says Ferman. “The sheer scale of the bridges and the brutality of the shapes, the black concrete masses next to tiny trees, pylons, cables, metal stanchions and dark, threatening spaces, create an almost prison-like atmosphere.”
Shelter is characterised by strong diagonals and parallel power-lines. The camera captures many spatial planes – flares on the glass, reflections of the lights inside the carriage, sunlight, skies and shadows blurred by speed. Some colours seem to be solarising and blowing out, with the pink and yellow clouds purposely referencing the paintings of Tintoretto, as a historic link to the Renaissance scenes of moral upheaval beneath turbulent skies.
– Excerpt from The Immolation of the Followers of St Motorino (2009) by Jonathan Turner. An extension of the essay is featured in the exhibition catalogue.