For this 5×5, I began with a few concepts: Classicism and the uncanny.
Themes of Classicism and the uncanny persist through photography, from its conception in the 1800s, through present, contemporary image making. Classicism refers to the Western traditional aesthetic. This ideal is accomplished through formalism, balance, and often restraint. The uncanny has qualities of the surreal; it presents something familiar while synchronously presenting something alien to the viewer. It seeks to evoke a mood of unease.
Sophie Calle‘s Thursday: Green, from The Chromatic Diet, began as collaboration with novelist Paul Auster. Interdisciplinary collaborations (or any collaborations!) are exciting, and the result of this one is uncanny, to boot. In an attempt to merge identities with Auster’s protagonist Maria, from The Leviathan, Calle proceeded to do as Maria did: eat a themed, colored diet, which was synchronized with the days of the week. Auster would propose a menu, and Calle would add to it. She would then photograph the meal. I recommend looking at The Diet in its entirety, to experience the full affect of Calle and Auster’s narrative rainbow vision.
While Midge Wattles studied abroad in Rome, she was the photographer amongst painters. She was engulfed in the study of Renaissance Italian painting. Wattles began her series, Replica, during her stay, and produced this still life, Beatrice After Reni. The original portrait, by Guido Reni, depicts a woman named Beatrice Cenci. Cenci was an elevated woman of her time, a kind of pseudo saint in 16th century Rome. Wattles stayed in Piazza Cenci, the palace where Cenci lived. This image recontextualizes the evolving role of photography, and speaks to the commodification of images through reproduction.
Patrick Hogan‘s work is lovely and often macabre. This portrait is from his series, Still, it’s unconventional, yet also reminiscent of classic Dutch paintings. The scratches make the image feel antiquated; it seems as if it’s a discarded photograph, that has now been found and digitized. The soft focus gives the woman an eerie quality, like that of a specter. Collectively the series is poetic. Its loose narrative connects distinctive imagery, making it a cohesive whole.
Hiroshi Sugimoto‘s The Music Lesson is an homage to (or unabashed appropriation of) Johannes Vermeer’s The Music Lesson. Needless to say, it heavily relies on Classicism. Sugimoto made dozens of these portraits in his series, Portraits. The images are referential to actual paintings, and they depict notable persons throughout history. His images were created using wax figures, like the ones at Madame Taussads, and other wax musuems throughout the world. The resulting images are hard to make sense of; they are the perfect synthesis of Classicism and the uncanny.
Lee Friedlander‘s TV in Hotel Room, Galax, Virginia, from the series, The Little Screens, is uncanny. This is unlike most of Friedlander’s work which is quite traditional. This image highlights Friedlander’s skill for finding portals; he provides two images, sometimes contradictory: the environment itself and the television screen. This body of work also reminds me of his series, America by Car, where he utilizes the car window as a portal.
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