About the Photographer
German, b. 1978
Simon Menner’s project Metacity (2005-2009) records the informal structures and temporary shelters built by the homeless in the metropolises of Mumbai, Chicago, Paris, and Tokyo. These cities were each modernized with the guidance of grand urban plans, often subsequent to natural or deliberate destruction. The port city of Mumbai adapted the British colonial model during the 19th century, Napoléon III commissioned Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann in 1852 to devise the plan that still defines Paris with its large boulevards and open spaces, the Merchants Club of Chicago sponsored the renowned 1909 Daniel Burnham Plan of Chicago, and Tokyo was rebuilt twice during the twentieth century following the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and the massive bombings of World War II. Although all of these plans endeavored to have a profound impact on a city’s society—and arguably did—they often favored the interests of the elite over the poor and inevitably failed to anticipate evolving urban requirements.
For the first time in history, the majority of the world’s population lives in urban rather than rural areas, and along with global urbanization comes slums and homelessness. Menner’s photographs question whether there exist common elements of poverty in different locations around the globe, yet each city, as he sees it, also stands for a unique cultural group or economic reality. He is not interested in documenting the slums of third world countries––perhaps the most conspicuous manifestations of poverty––so much as showing how individual homeless people negotiate and inhabit modern cities. As Menner asks, “Are there connecting elements of this kind of poverty in very different cities? Is there a globalized appearance of homelessness?” To attempt an answer, Menner creates cityscapes in which grand infrastructure, thoroughfares, and planned public spaces coexist with the haphazard and provisional constructions the homeless use as shelter. He photographs at night, capturing nearly empty downtown spaces populated only by the homeless, who are most vulnerable while sleeping in public areas. The homeless and their shelters are not always conspicuous in Menner’s images, but become part of the urban landscape.
Simon Menner was born in Germany in 1978. He completed an MFA at the Universität der Künste in Berlin (2007), studying with Dieter Appelt and Stan Douglas, and studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2005. Menner has exhibited in Germany, Belgium, and the United States. He resides in Berlin.