In cities we have made it normal for there to be practically no empty spaces. Everywhere we look, our field of vision is filled with stimuli that demand our attention, most of it occupied by advertising. Advertisements are an element of the urban landscape that work as a subtle but persistent occupation of our mental space. However, in the 2013 series Empty Promises, the German photographer Matthias Ley shows a reverse process; as a consequence of the recession and the rise of digital media, the streets of Tokyo have begun to fill with blank hoardings.
For Ley, this work is a critique of the false promises of advertising, but also a comment on the void in Oriental culture, an idea present in its architecture and in fundamental Buddhist texts such as the Sutra of the Essence. From this perspective, the vision of a blank billboard can be interpreted not as a synonym of crisis but of leisure; a gesture of resistance that frees our mind and makes it sensitive to other types of stimuli.
Matthias Ley was born in Bavaria, Germany, in 1965 and he lives and works between Munich and Seoul. He studied Economics in Wuerzburg and later moved to Kyoto, Japan. Matthias was an assistant photographer at Photo Studio 103 in Osaka and since 1993 he has been working as a freelance photographer for magazines, publishing houses, newspapers and companies. In 2008 he has turned his work towards artistic documentary photography and started to produce personal projects on everyday life in Asian megacities, focusing on the urban landscape rather than individuals. His work has been exhibited individually and collectively in galleries, art centres and institutions in South Korea, Japan, Germany and Italy.
Getxophoto is an image festival created and managed by Begihandi, that has been taking place in Getxo—Basque Country, Euskadi—since 2007. This festival is part of a cultural ecosystem with the aim of being more participatory, hybrid, committed and sustainable. This thematic Festival is conceived as a platform that addresses contemporary challenges through different proposals, from visual storytellers around the world, in an attempt to create spaces for reflection and establish a collective conversation. Getxophoto is characterized by the radical defense of public space (both physical and online). For this reason, most of its programme is composed of outdoor installations, highlighting, on the one hand, the link between the image and the environment and, on the other, generating a more horizontal and participatory relationship with the public.
María Ptqk is the curator of GETXOPHOTO 2023.