13 May 2010
"There is no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity." – Unknown
When Richard Prince rephotographed cigarette advertisements and Sherrie Levine copied an entire series of photos by Walker Evans, they challenged the notion of what constitutes consideration as art, and they opened the door for a barrage of appropriations within the art community. Levine has noted that "Man has placed his token on every stone. Every word, every image, is leased and mortgaged." In other words: nothing is original; we can only imitate what we have already seen.
Many of the most succesful contemporary photographers are no strangers to questions of originality and authenticity. Gregory Crewdson and Jeff Wall assemble grand scenes that reference art, cinema, and literature. Their photographs present false realities or tableaus that fill galleries with their grand dimensions. Thomas Struth features famous paintings in his museum photographs. Andreas Gursky has been known to rephotograph some of the places his former German classmates have featured in their own images: a picture of a well-known Jackson Pollock painting first photographed by Struth, one of the Chicago Board of Trade also first taken by Struth, and a great library first made famous by Candida Höfer, to name a few. But Gursky is best known for his giant manipulated photographs of the "modern" world as he attempts to reveal structure where it is sometimes difficult to see; he imposes enormous grids on some images and multiplies features in others to create sublime revelations and distorted realities. In doing this, Gursky champions the artifice of photography by challenging his viewers' assumptions about the reality of his photographs.
This project is a series of photographs that mimic a number of Crewdson's, Wall's, Struth's, and Gursky's tableaus by recreating the scenes with forced perspectives and magnifications on a diminished scale of 1/50-1/100 of life size. The models are painstakingly composed on my table top out of wood, plastic, paper, thread, and anything that can be made to look like something else. The models are then photographed on 4"x5" film so that they can be enlarged far greater than the size of the model, revealing every mistake and every fabrication. Their size amplifies questions of their reality by removing the scenes from daily life and eliminating the identity or physiognomy of the figures to an even greater degree than Gursky's or Struth's photos accomplish; they decimate the scale of the scenes that Crewdson and Wall create for their cameras.
This series of photographs forces the viewer to question whether I am just copying others or creating something of my own. These are complex images that indirectly reference multiple artists while engaging not only the viewer but also both modern and contemporary art history. The images are not rephotographs as Levine's were; they can stand on their own. I am not simply changing the origin of the photographs or reframing them for a new destination, nor am I attempting to cancel out these photographers altogether. Instead, I am constructing postmodern questions about illustrious photographers' manufactured truths.