Born the son of a commercial photographer, Andreas Gursky had planned to follow in his father’s footsteps until he enrolled at the Kunstakademie Dusseldorf in 1981. Instead, he followed the advice of his friend Thomas Struth and joined the class of Bernd and Hilla Becher, whose strict teaching method required their students to pick a social subject and adopt a uniform style of picture-making to document a large number of examples. Only after the essence of a subject had revealed itself in the series of its various instances were students allowed to move on to a new one. While this strategy has continued to pervade Gursky’s practice, his heightened sensitivity to the identity of his subjects has enabled him to capture their essence in a single shot.
Gursky’s large-scale photographs of mass gatherings demonstrate a keen eye for patterns of social order and disarray. His depictions of stock exchanges, for example, epitomize the artist’s platonic striving toward the generic identity of his subject matter. He embarked on the series in 1990 after he saw a newspaper photo of the Tokyo Stock Exchange. The slow shutter speed he used to shoot Tokyo, Stock Exchange (1990) abstracts from the human figures on the trading floor to expose the workings of capitalism’s financial operations. As the artist’s reputation grew over the course of the 1990s, so did his opportunities for travel. Later photographs from the series—made in such centers of the global economy as Singapore, Kuwait, and Hong Kong—testify not only to the globalization of stock markets, but also to the expansion of the international art world.