Frank Thiel: A Berlin Decade Hatje Cantz, 2006. £39.99.
Distributed by Art Books International (02392 200080)
In the wake of the show at Manchester's CUBE, featuring Michael Collins' large-scale 'record photos' of building sites (AJ 08.02.07), comes Frank Thiel's account of a decade of construction in Berlin. Like Collins, Thiel focuses on process not result and does so quite dispassionately. The artist Robert Smithson believed that many building sites offer more visual stimuli than what finally emerges from them, and that's certainly the case with some of Thiel's subjects - pre-eminently Potsdamer Platz. How mediocre it looks now that the rawness of construction is concealed.
Several things distinguish Thiel's approach. As well as offering Collins-like overviews of sites taking shape, he concentrates on detail, and does so with a Modernist eye that relishes grids and modular repetitions, whether in sheets of steel reinforcement or a building's facade. That's one kind of near-abstraction. But Thiel's Berlin is a place of demolition as well as construction, so another species of abstraction appears: the more Expressionist one of ravaged surfaces and peeling walls.
Deftly paced and sequenced, Thiel's book is often very striking, though the stress on process means we don't really sense the Berlin that now exists - the limits of the makeover, the continuing fractures and voids. During the time that Thiel took these photos, the German economy foundered and the downside of reunification became clear. It's surely no accident that his book ends with those peeling walls.