I first encountered the work of Michael Vahrenwald in an issue of Blindspot Magazine a few years ago. Struck by the enigmatic quality of his photographs, I remember spending a lot of time trying to decipher exactly what, or at least where these spaces were. The titles give slight indications, but for the most part Vahrenwald's work remains shrouded in cryptic mystery. Universal Default is a project that explores the outer lying spaces of newly constructed chain store lots, rendered at night with the help of surrounding ambient light. Vahrenwald's photographs exist as examinations of coporate land-use and expansion, while concurrently subsisting as explorations of the more formal aspects of the medium. In the words of Vahrenwald himself:
My subject is a byproduct of economics, a leftover landscape. My work is strongly indebted by generations of artists before me, especially the American photographers of the 1960’s and 70’s whom responded to a need to re-examine the American landscape in a time of political, economic and cultural crisis. The work is not an all-encompassing narrative of “America” but rather a visual or archeological exploration grounded by a conceptual structure.
Straw Hill, Wal-Mart, Bloomsburg, PA 2005
From the Series Universal Default
Image © Michael Vahrenwald