According to Fiona Bradley, when Andreas Gursky 'photographed the scene that became Klausen Pass (1984), he did not notice the people scattered at the base of the mountain. Looking at the photograph later, he identified the people as the reason for the success of the image: dispersed throughout the field of vision, the people direct and animate it' (Andreas Gursky: Images 1995). This account seems rather unlikely even for an amateur photographer - who photographs a landscape without instinctively noting where other people are and how it will affect the image? In other works from the early eighties, Andreas Gursky was finding interesting groups of people to photograph, like Sunday Walkers, Dusseldorf (1984)... the scatter of figures on the sunny mountainside in Klausen Pass seem too interesting to have been overlooked in the work's composition.
It is true, however, that in Klausen Pass the individuality of the adults and children standing and walking through the image can be ignored - as part of the composition they are an irregular sequence of coloured forms leading the eye up a path to the mountain. They provide some scale like the small foreground figures in traditional picturesque painting. And yet because the photographic medium means we are looking at real people, rather than, say, anonymous pastoral shepherds, they remain intriguing. Why is that woman walking off the path? Who is that bare-chested man waiting for? Which of these people know each other and which are strangers?
In later works by Andreas Gursky, individual people may be absent, but the traces of human activity - rows of windows, cars, containers - continue to provoke questions about what we are looking at. In general his landscapes are given structure and pattern by groups of figures and the accumulation of human artifacts. This gives them their distinctive formal beauty whilst simultaneously drawing attention to some of the ways in which we now work, travel and spend our leisure time.