In Mercedes Bremen Gursky uses the visual language of modernism to describe the everyday aesthetics of late twentieth century industrial society. Although specificity is indicated in the title of the work, information actually presented is generalised. The factory assembly line becomes a formalist grid of intersecting lines and planes. This emphasis on pictorial design, discernable in images Gursky made in the 1990's, marks a shift from the photographer's previous practice. As he has himself identified, and numerous critics, his work moved towards greater abstraction away from the early documentary and observational concerns. "My pictures are becoming increasingly formal and abstract. A visual structure appears to dominate the real events shown in my pictures. I subjugate the real situation to my artistic concept of the picture. You never notice arbitrary details in my work. On a formal level, countless interrelated micro and macrostructures are woven together, determined by an overall organizational organisational principle. A closed microcosm which thanks to my distanced attitude towards my subject, allows the viewer to recognise the hinges that hold the system together." In other words, his ways of working and thinking about his work coalesced in the early 1990's into the mature aesthetic that has since predominated in his art.
From 1991 to 1993 Gursky photographed dozens of German factories. Under the auspices of a corporate funded cultural program he set out to capture the look of modern manufacturing. This formed part of a larger project to depict the machinery of our global capitalist society. But rather than an idealised model of high-tech efficiency what the artist presents is an artful questioning of this ideology. Subverting the visual logic of corporate promotional imagery Gursky distils a compelling glimpse of contemporary life. From the familiar, or even banal, the artist has fashioned a vivid image of the complex phenomena of modern life.