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Work / Photography

Rico and Michael photographically explore the unavoidable influence of mainstream culture

Over three years, photographers Rico Sacgliola and Michael Meier scouted the streets of Western cities, looking for candid but completely normal moments to capture. The result is Years Later… published by Edition Patrick Frey, which displays how mainstream culture is unavoidable in any city and at any age. The photographs are accompanied by everyday conversations too, pulled together from overheard snippets and Youtube videos, creating a book that is quite extraordinary in its normality.

Below, we speak to Rico and Michael about the mammoth project and its process.

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Rico & Michael: Years Later…

As Years Later… documents urban spaces, what were the particular locations you were looking for?

Over the period of three years we’ve been taking photographs in various big cities of people from all walks of life and of every age in public and semi-public urban spaces: on streets and city squares, in cafes and bars, train stations and airports, stores and shopping centres. It’s not about specific cities or about the localisation of the taken photographs. It’s about how globally a lot of big cities have the same unspecific and generic areas, built or reshaped for highly commercial purposes.

In the tradition of subjective street photography, we explored everyday rituals and self-presentation strategies, observing how the boundaries between public and private spheres are increasingly blurred by the new media. We tried to explore how people of a Western stamp, largely emancipated from overarching ideologies and out-dated social norms, strive to display their unique identities – but there’s simply no getting away from all-engulfing mainstream culture. The excessive demands of the will to individuality are intensified by the homogenised and commercially optimised architecture of urban centres with their promise of transparency and stability. The individual has a hard time eluding the controlling influence of urban planning.

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Rico & Michael: Years Later…

Were there any particular sort of moments were you looking to capture? 

We were looking for the ultimate ordinary, banal and allegedly unspectacular situations and details, for example Kids Standing in Front of a Billboard. For us, this picture is a nice get together of visual information and details we were touched by throughout the whole project. Two kids standing kind of mesmerised in front of a double “David Beckham Bodywear by H&M” billboard.

The girl, standing on her pink micro scooter, wearing one of these popular hooded down jackets with a fake fur collar, leather boots with a Union Jack print on, is reaching out one arm to touch this worn-out but still proud western-icon-face of Beckham with her flat hand, only protected by acrylic glass which is already marked with other oily fingerprints. A boy is standing one step next and behind the girl and he just stares at the other Beckham billboard. He is probably thinking if he should get in touch with the commercialised figurehead too. Or maybe he has his eyes closed and thinks of Victoria. No one knows, no one can tell.

How do you decide which photographs would make it into the publication when you have three years worth of content?

All together we took about 5000 pictures. We chose about 150 for the book. In 5000 pictures you’ll find, of course, a lot of failed ones. Photographs that for example just failed on a formal level or photographs that are compromising people, that make some sort of a caricature out of them or are too jokey or too dramatic in a way. We didn’t want that.

For example we took a picture of a middle-aged woman sitting on a park bench by herself and drinking from a big bottle of prosecco. Next to the bench there was an overflowing rubbish bin in which you can see the cap of the prosecco bottle. These kind of pictures we sometimes took but we knew right away that we wanted to avoid to communicate through such pictures that are trenchant or make a laughing stock out of a person. We were more interested to show the people on the streets as model figures or as extras, and not as personalities. 

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Rico & Michael: Years Later…

Can you describe the spoken-word fragments that sit alongside the photographs?

The spoken-word fragments in the accompanying text book contain snatches of conversations overheard in the streets, in restaurants, public transport or conversations we had with friends. We just recorded them with our phones, transcribed and edited. We anonymised the texts, took out all the names and tried to keep them as gender-neutral as possible. There are also some passages from monologues we found on various Youtube channels. We wanted to create something like a (main)stream of consciousness that accompanies the photos, pretending to give them a voice, but without giving them a distinct personality. It’s a kind of one-sided communication where someone wants to offload all their life experiences, good or bad, mostly ordinary, on to the listener for personal relief.

In terms of the older photographs featured, have you spotted how the urban areas have changed since?

In the three years we worked on the project they didn’t change much actually. We think the last years marked kind of a peaking stagnation, not only in urban planning. The only change is probably that there is even more of the same, the same architectural alterations and interventions, maybe done a bit more ‘consciously’ but not less generic. And we noticed the extensive abuse of the term authentic that is written on shop and restaurant windows everywhere.

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Rico & Michael: Years Later…

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Rico & Michael: Years Later…

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Rico & Michael: Years Later…

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Rico & Michael: Years Later…

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Rico & Michael: Years Later…

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Rico & Michael: Years Later…

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Rico & Michael: Years Later…