Andreas Gursky, Les Mées (2016). C-type print. 2.2 x 3.7 m. Courtesy © Andreas Gursky/DACS, 2017 and Sprüth Magers, Berlin / Los Angeles.
In Andreas Gursky's Mülheim, Anglers (1989), hobby fishermen gather on the banks of the river Ruhr. As verdant forest collapses into the curl of the water, the epic romance is broken by the emergence of the Autobahn in the distance. Part of Gursky's 68-work retrospective at the newly reopened Hayward Gallery in London's Southbank Centre, it is as if the motorway's appearance in Mülheim, Anglers has begun to resonate with the gallery's own forceful framing of exposed concrete.
This survey of the 63-year-old Dusseldorf School photographer's blockbuster illusions – his first major show in the UK – is packed with his early masterworks, including a study of the visual density and postwar modernist architecture of Paris's Mouchotte Building in Paris, Montparnasse (1993). Here Gursky used two different perspectives to photograph the 750 flats designed here by Jean Dubuisson in 1959, and then pulled them together in post-production to create a smooth mosaic, with their vanishing points erased. Or in the equally eerie Rhine II (1999, reworked 2015), Gursky took on the romantic icon, and stripped out all signs of life and construction (including the presence of a coal plant), digitally reducing the photograph to horizontal bands of grass, pathway and water, shimmering in minimalist abstraction.