In the novels of Edith Wharton, a bygone era of New York is immortalized, one in which New York’s burgeoning urban space exists alongside sprawling wilderness. The cartography of the Manhattan isle has long since been charted — but in parts of the Middle East, newly-constructed skyscrapers stand against a seldom-interrupted backdrop of desert sand.
Rotterdam-based artist Bas Princen was introduced to this curiously disparate landscape as a research project for the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam. However, his photographs of rapidly-developing urban centers in areas like Dubai, Beirut, Amman, Cairo, and Istanbul reveal differences that extend far beyond architecture.
While most of his images are absent of people, when he does juxtapose human figures with the structures-in-progress, their physical proximity belies the two entities’ social distance from one another. Clad in blue workman’s uniforms and clustered near piles of rubble, groups of laborers gather in front of a massive slick black cube of a building. It is clear that these workmen occupy a very different world than the one that they are working to create for others.
The cities portrayed in Bas Princen’s images have the feeling of a work in progress. Yet while the landscapes he has captured are certainly progressing toward urbanization, the somewhat desolate atmosphere of his pictures impose a looming question mark over this new generation of flourishing cities.