Sameer Makarius

Stack of Sewer Pipes


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Sameer Makarius 1924–2009
Original title
Pila de caños de cloaca
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
Image: 296 × 225 mm
Presented by Karim Makarius 2011


Stack of Sewer Pipes is a black and white photograph that depicts a large stack of sewer pipes shot frontally so that the image consists of hundreds of white and grey circles with dark interiors. Positioned in rows on top of each other, the pipes form a geometrically ordered, grid-like structure that fills the entire image, except for a band of wispy grass that occupies the bottom edge of the picture. This area of grass in the foreground, and the glimpse of light seen at the end of some of the pipes, creates a sense of depth to this otherwise flat composition. The framing of the image serves to isolate the subject matter from its context, transforming the three-dimensional materiality of the pipes into two-dimensional abstract forms, an illusion enhanced by the sharp use of light and contrasting tones. Part of a group of photographs taken by Makarius in Buenos Aires during the 1950s, Stack of Sewer Pipes reveals his interest in blurring the boundaries between representation and abstraction through photographic means, and his attempt to find beauty and balance in a city undergoing industrialisation.

Makarius was one of the most prolific photographers in Buenos Aires during the 1950s and 1960s. Born in Cairo in 1924 to an Egyptian father and a German mother, Makarius lived in Berlin as a child, and later Budapest, before moving to Argentina in 1953 where he lived until his death in 2009. While in Budapest during the Second World War, Makarius studied art and began his career as an abstract painter, before turning to photography in the mid-1940s. Quite soon after arriving in Buenos Aires in 1953, Makarius started to record life in the city with his camera. He photographed the city in exhaustive detail, from its best known monuments and buildings to its parks, bars, theatres, lottery shops and hoisting cranes, often homing in on everyday details such as door handles, canaries in cages, or flapping laundry in the street. He visited every neighbourhood in the city, photographing its street vendors, football matches, families on their Sunday afternoon outings, the horse races – any subject that caught his eye. From Liniers to Constitucio´n, from Recoleta to the parks in Palermo, Makarius went everywhere, but especially to La Boca, a working-class riverside neighbourhood located in the capital’s south-eastern corner, once the favoured destination of Italian immigrants.

Makarius’s work is characterised by a classic documentary style that demonstrates not only a sensitive attention to details, but also an awareness of the ability of each image to transcend its subject matter and convey an essence of the city depicted. Some of his compositions, with their oblique angles and cropped viewpoints, show the influence of avant-garde photography from Europe, and in particular constructivist photography, which Makarius would have been familiar with from his time in Germany and Hungary.

The artist published his exhaustive visual chronicles of Buenos Aires in 1960 in his first book Buenos Aires y su gente (Buenos Aires and its People), followed by a second book Buenos Aires, mi ciudad (Buenos Aires, My City) published in 1963.

Further reading
Córdova Iturburu, ‘Introduction’, in Sameer Makarius, Buenos Aires y su gente, Buenos Aires 1960, unpaginated.
Sameer Makarius, Buenos Aires, mi ciudad, Buenos Aires 1963.
Sameer Makarius, Makarius: Retratos / Portraits, ed. by María Torres, Buenos Aires 2007.

Iria Candela and Gaia Tedone
June 2012

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