One of the first large-scale photographs that Andreas Gursky ever created, Salerno dates from the origins of one of the great artistic oeuvres of our time. Included in most of Gursky's major exhibitions, Salerno reveals the germination of many of the themes which would come to dominate his artistic output of the last twenty years. In this vast 1990 picture, an expansive landscape is shown with, in the near distance, an array of cars and vans, shipped in bulk, parked at the port. This landscape recedes as though by layers, with a seemingly logical progression: behind the cars are colourful crates, and behind them the port. And revealing itself beyond the harbour is Salerno itself, its houses stretching towards a hilly faraway landscape that recalls the paintings of Dutch artists of centuries past, Salerno is the ancient city of the Amalfi coast, which in more recent memory served briefly as the capital during the Second World War. Those ancient hills seem all the more timeless when juxtaposed with the bustling, conflicting chaos and organisation of the modern industrial scene in the foreground. Gursky has managed to reveal beauty in the underside of contemporary society: the vehicles in the foreground, with the strange patterns made by the placing of red, black and blue cars in amongst the majority of white ones, is continued in the assembled crates behind them, whose geometry in turn reverberates through the buildings in the background. Gursky has deliberately selected a view that foregoes standard concepts of beauty yet which nonetheless appears to show a cohesive, underpinning logic and order that in itself is entrancing. Viewed from this angle, the cars, crates and houses are lent an intriguing equivalency, their juxtaposition here allowing us a fleeting glimpse of the existence of an arcane system, some mysterious order coursing through the fabric of the world itself.
In Salerno, Gursky has adopted a vertiginous perspective, looking down upon the scene from on high. In compositional terms, this allows him to fill most of the surface with the landscape, keeping the horizon high. Filling the vast expanse of this picture with infinitessimal details means that the seemingly detached perspective nonetheless results in an immersive viewing experience. And this is made all the more thrilling for the viewer by Gursky's adoption of a highly stylised and saturated colour palette.
It is telling that Gursky, discussing the motifs he selects for his pictures, explained that, 'It is always an immediate visual experience that triggers the photograph' (Gursky, quoted in P. Galassi, Andreas Gursky, exh. cat., New York, 2001, p. 43n). Salerno can be seen to contain references to artistic forebearers such as Caspar David Friedrich, to Gursky's own mentors, Bernd and Hilla Becher or, in the cars, crates and houses, even to the Colour chart paintings of Gerhard Richter. However, it is that sudden epiphany, that vision of the world around us reduced to details that fall into place as the constituent parts of a seemingly absurd abstraction, that represents Gursky's unique artistic vision. The role of that moment of understanding of the beauty of the view before him was all the more crucial during the period that Salerno was created, as it pre-dates Gursky's use of digital manipulation in his images.