Ursula Schulz-Dornburg

From Medina to Jordan Border, Saudi Arabia

2003

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Not on display
Artist
Ursula Schulz-Dornburg born 1938
Medium
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
Dimensions
Image: 257 x 334 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Acquisitions Committee 2012
Reference
P80061

Summary

This black and white photograph is from Ursula Schulz-Dornburg’s series Train Stations of the Hejaz Railway in Saudi Arabia. Each image in the series is framed according to the artist’s specifications. As the title suggests, the series depicts the disappearing landscape of the Hejaz Railway as captured by Schultz-Dornburg when she travelled to Saudi Arabia in 2003. Constructed under Ottoman rule at the beginning of the twentieth century by German engineer Heinrich Meissner, the Hejaz Railway was intended to connect Damascus in Syria to Mecca. However, due to the outbreak of the First World War this goal was never achieved and the railway only reached Medina. During the First World War and under the instruction and encouragement of British Army officer T.E. Lawrence, the Hejaz Railway was attacked and destroyed by Bedouins. Following the fall of the Ottoman Empire the railway never reopened.

This series of photographs documents the expansive landscape that stretches along the nearly 820 mile route that the railway once occupied. The images show the standardised architecture of the abandoned ‘L’ shaped train stations, what is left of the decaying train carriages, small sections of intact train tracks and the seemingly empty expanse of desert. By photographing this disappearing landscape, Schulz-Dornburg was not only concerned with documenting the disappearing architectural structures of the railway but also, through the railway’s decay, with charting the decline of the Ottoman Empire that constructed it.

Schulz-Dornburg was born in Berlin in 1938. She studied journalism in Munich in the early 1960s, through which she learnt the basic principles of photography. In 1967 she spent a year in New York and was introduced to the conceptual art developing there at the time; however it was not until the mid-1970s that she began working on her own conceptual photographic projects. Schulz-Dornburg’s black and white photographs are typically presented in series, and record architecture and its surrounding landscape in relation to themes of history, politics and cycles of time and decay. Her work is usually project-based; she purposely travels to relatively obscure locations in countries such as Armenia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and Azerbaijan, and documents in an archetypal way what she considers to be disappearing landscapes.

Further reading
Kenneth White, Ursula Schulz-Dornburg: Across the Territories 1980–2001, exhibition catalogue, Institut Valencia d’Art Modern, Valencia 2002.
Kirstin Feireiss, Matthias Barmann, Ursula Schulz-Dornburg: Architectures of Waiting, Cologne 2008.
Julian Heynen, Miroslaw Balka, Ursula Schulz-Dornburg: Pacing the Horizon, exhibition catalogue, Kunstparterre Munchen, Munich 2009.

Shoair Mavlian
August 2011

Display caption

As the title suggests, the series depicts the disappearing landscape of the Hejaz Railway in Saudi Arabia. Constructed under Ottoman rule at the beginning of the twentieth century by German engineer Heinrich Meissner, the Hejaz Railway was intended to connect Damascus to Mecca. However, due to the outbreak of the First World War this goal was never achieved and the railway only reached Medina. During the First World War, it was attacked and destroyed by Bedouins working with T.E Lawrence. Following the fall of the Ottoman Empire the railway was never reopened.

Gallery label, July 2012

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