contemporary photography and its pictorial sharings: antinomies and convergences – BY Niura Legramante Ribeiro
The compositional repertoires of photographic thematic elements and spatial dispositions were, as we all know, since their appearance, borrowed from the tradition of painting in its various genres, landscapes, nudes and still lifes, among others, as analyzed by Aaron Scharf and Van Deren Coke in their publications.
It may seem strange, but it’s nothing paradoxical to think that the issue of traditional genres of art history are being shared by certain contemporary artists, since many of them are interested in working through the crossing of means of production, materials, periods, disciplines, gender categories and themes, causing revisitations in relation to past of art history.
To Francis Ponge, the genre, especially in painting, is what a painter is specialized in, a condition for the mastery in painting, inextricably linked to the artist (1). In the book La confusión de los géneros en fotografia, Valérie Picaudé claims that the genre, among other concepts, is “a kind of images that have common qualities and a mental category which regulates the perception of images” (2). So, in one of the conceptions of genre, the idea of sorting by typologies of representation is implied.
Due to the quantitative explosion of photographic images, what today seems crucial for certain artists is the handling of images. As stated by Régis Durand, the contemporary world of images “collects, archives and practices the permanent recycling” (3). Among the procedures employed in the work of contemporary artists, there is the use of images of images, the quoting, the recycling, the diversion of purposes, the decontextualization, the mixtures of references, the play with the history of the images and the visual borrowing between different disciplines.
To make use of these possibilities, some artists rely on repertoires offered by the internet, by the multimedia technologies, looking for images on Google Street View – which, as we all know, allows you to locate and view distant places, often inaccessible – in relationship sites, and places that reproduce works of art history and in publications in newspapers. So, all these cells have made the construction of narratives in contemporary photographic practices possible. The manipulation of images from these sources in order to produce redefinitions or even upgrades are foundational acts of artistic processes. These are the strategies used by artists like Dirnei Prates and Felipe Cama.
IL – PHOTOGRAPHIC UPGRADES OF PICTORIAL LANDSCAPES AND TRIVIALIZATION GAMES WITH NUDES
We’ve reached a time that the studio of an artist can be the computer, especially for those who work with images. The correlation between available images on the internet with certain works of art history is one of the photographic operations performed by the artist Felipe Cama, who aims to think how the image is produced, distributed and consumed.18 It is in the giant information portal of Google (19) that the artist accesses images to reconfigure them as photographic productions which, through operational procedures, create evidence of the digital language, because, as we all know, the dialogue of artists with the numerical is increasingly emphasised in contemporary art. On internet sites, the artist selects reproductions of modern and classic paintings to refigure them with a numerical language. If a chemical-based photography could explore the grain of matter as a photographic surface, now Cama uses planar effects of constitution of a numerical image and makes it pixelated. Thus, he overrides the entire surface of the gestures of strokes of iconic images in the history of painting. This operation standarizes the images and put in crisis the authorial gesture identification of the authors of the paintings. To compose his numerical language, the artist chose traditional pictorial painting reproductions: the naked and the landscape.
The nude, far from being a marginal factor in the history of photography, was of great interest to artists as an anonymous audience. The large production of this genre was intended to meet at least two fronts. Artists required photographs for their compositions, in sexy poses or merely reclining bodies in armchairs, beds, amid curtains, as in paintings by Gustave Courbet, and Eugène Delacroix, made from photographs from Vallou Villeneuve. The other demand was mainly in the nude obscene, stereoscopic photographs, therefore, in 3D, in which poses revealed clearly the sexual areas with the purpose of meeting a male clientele, as shown by the photographs produced by Auguste Belloc. The photograph was, therefore, right from the start, a premier provider of images that fed the imagination of the nude.
In the 19th century this function competed with press photograph, in times of internet, access became even more instant and free. On the digital network, Felipe Cama found many of the nude images that went on to be used in his compositions associated with nudes in the art history. Given the amount of images that circulate on the internet, Felipe practices what Régis Durand points out as a characteristic of the contemporary artist, which is the managing in the handling and recycling of images, causing new associations and redefinitions of images of images, using a mix of references, playing games with the history of the images through the quoting of pictorial references in his photographs.
In the series Nus after (2004-2010), Felipe Cama digitally recreates pictorial works by Monet, Gauguin, Modigliani, Matisse and Van Gogh with a procedure of pixelation. Because they are well-known images, as in Nu (after Gauguin) and Nu (after Matisse), even after having applied this method of composition, it is still possible to recognize them as being paintings from these artists, by the shapes and positions of the bodies. But, to cause the disappearance of the gestural brushwork that differentiates a modernist artist to another, the image turns out to be standardized while in a visual planar surface. The same treatment, even though varying its chromatism, is assigned to all his photographic works from this series that reference the painting. Such formal procedure can present an ironic content in relation to cultures that, by force of circumstance in relation to the distances from the original works, need to meet know them in order to replicate, without having to have visual contact directly with the colors and textures of the strokes. And it makes you think how the appreciation of works of art happen. In another series, called Similar nudes (Nus parecidos, 2005-2009), the artist seeks, through the lenticular printing (20), an association between two similar female nudes, especially in the poses, from reproductions of oil paintings of nudes created by Picasso, Modigliani or Van Gogh, which are associated with pornographic anonymous nudes, taken from websites or images that the artist received by email. The photos Sabrina x Modigliani (2006), Karine x Freud (2006) and Pamela x Picasso (2007) carry the names adopted by the women photographed and the names of the artists, in order to confront the different contexts and purposes of the images found on the digital network. Although the nude has been, as you know, a genre much represented in the history of painting, one can’t help thinking of the trivialization games of images overlaying reproductions of pornographic origin circulating in websites to works circulating in museums, in the homes of collectors, in the art world. However, while reproducible images, both circulate in virtual environments, therefore, the usage occurs in the same virtual platform.
Although a small notion of volume by the tonal differences in body parts is still noticeable in the photographic series, the geometric fabric that explores different sizes of mosaics and the planar chromatic surfaces end up imposing an iconographic two-dimensionality to the figures. The photographic planarities destroy the individualities of the modernist strokes or create confrontation with the traditional codes of mimicry of the classic pictorial nude treatment. Thus, the degree of abstraction is greater than the figurative codes, especially in spaces that surround the figures. The large format of the images, such as a mural, helps to accentuate the planarity of the bodies and the visibility of colors. This prompts the spectator to a detachment to reconfigure the image represented (21). In this way, the artist tensions the figuration of appropriate pictorial images to the limits, as well as the figurative nature of photography itself.
If, since the 19th century, with daguerreotypes tours, the photography began to feed the imagination of people with photos of landscapes, today, with Google Street View (22), access to images of landscapes occurs much more quickly, instantly and free of charge. The title of the series of Street View Landscapes (2011), Felipe Cama, is indicative of the entire process of his work. The technology is in the service of the project of the artist, which encounters the possibility of reflections on the idea of memory and time. After selecting works by artists of his interest – Frans Post, Vermeer, Cézanne, El Greco, Turner, Ruisdael, Corot, Constable, Delacroix and Sisley –, Felipe uses the titles of the paintings of landscapes taken by these artists and, through the application Google Streetview, he finds current pictures of the same places that the painters used in their paintings. The photographs of those places, for the most part, have more differences than similarities with the locations recorded in the pictorial works, due to the physical transformations that have occurred in places by the passage of time, the angle photographed by the application, which, obviously, is not the same reproduced by the painter, as we can see in After Cézanne, Mountain Saint Victoire (Street View) (2011). This mismatch between the images is even more visible in landscapes with rivers and trees, as in After Delacroix L’Etang de Beauregard dans La Commune Le Louroux (Street view) (2011) and After Constabel View on the Stour near Dedham (Street view) (2011). Below the images, there is a map of the place. In fact, the titles given to photographs are the ones that expose the ancestors’s pictorial pictures in which they are referenced, as in the picture After Sisley (Early Snow at Louvenciennes) (Street View) (2011).
The paintings of these places by the artists serve, therefore, as a pretext for the pursuit of the same places. You can’t rescue the gesture of the painter, and that is not the intention of the artist, because the result is the visual discourse of the numerical image with the presence of a white mesh that overlaps the iconographies of the photographic landscapes. The presentation of the checkered landscape by this grid of lines can evoke the didactic principle of geometrized screen as a way of capturing a classic pictorial landscape as the feature of the drawing to an image expansion, but can also remember the visual setting of digital images when enlarged. The presence of this digital grid standardises all the photographs from the series, creating a pattern on the representation. This is the pattern that accentuates a certain two-dimensional nature of the image, as it does with the representations of nudes. Focusing on that same regime of images and on the predatory internet photography, the artist had created a previous series, named After Post (2010), in which he merged images of paintings by Frans Post (23) with pictures of regions of the northeastern Brazil, taken by amateurs photographers and found in the archives of Google. He calls them, for example, Pernambuco (after Post), Olinda (after Post), Natal (after Post), João Pessoa (after Post). The artist hasn’t been to the places registered by Post, but knows them through photographic images, so that the image is the mediator of the perception of the artist with the real. The vision of those places occurs through the eyes of another.
In these photographs, the artist also overlays a mesh that, besides highlighting the digital nature of the constitution of the image in pixels, eases the perspectives, the volumes and the textures of the landscape, forming a counterpoint with the idea of manuality and with the iconographic details of the paintings by Post. The flatness of the volumes of the original work ends up questioning the nature of verisimilitude historically assigned to the photo. The artist seems to want to extract from the paintings from Post and the appropriate photos only the chromatic constitution and its platitudes.
To update photographically pictorial landscapes that were produced at different times and juxtapose nudes created with different contexts and purposes are ways to observe how images are consumed in the contemporary world, because, although their purposes and production regimes have been very different, all of them can be viewed on the same platform on the digital world. It makes you wonder how the perception of the real has been mediated by the codes of the image.
Antinomies and convergences in the borrowing of images, titles of works and names of artists from the pictorial tradition are guiding sources for the photographic practices of Dirnei Prates and Felipe Cama. These artists cause sharings between images taken from different contexts, “images that are not art”, referencing Elkins, that are related in the same work, like the pornographic nudes captured in digital media by Prates and Cama, that coexist with references or reproductions of the history of painting. Before the avalanche of images of the contemporary world, Dirnei and Felipe propose the photographics realocation and recycling, assigning new meanings and updates to images of landscapes, from both the present and the past. In these artists, the textual narrative character of the titles of the works seems to be inseparable. Thus, the contemporary multimedia technologies and the wellsprings of the pictorial tradition formed the foundational processes framework of their photographic artistic practices.
1. Ponge apud Picaudé; Arbaïzar, 2004, p. 107.
2. Picaudé, Valérie. Clasificar la fotografía, con Perec, Aristóteles, Searle Y algunos otros. In: Picaudé; Arbaïzar, 2004, p. 23.
3. Durand, 2012, p.116.
19. A series from an artist that revisits the pictorial tradition and uses the image service from Google for the series Googlegramas, from Joan Fontcuberta. He reconfigures each of the paintings, such as the Last supper, by Leonardo da Vinci, and The origin of the world, by Gustave Courbet, through 10000 photographic reproductions taken from the internet, which by the tiny scale act as pixels. For the image of Jesus Christ’s Last supper, he wrote “peace” in 86 languages, in which he built the composition as a sort of mosaic, hard to decipher due to the amount of images. With this operation, the artist redoes a picture from the past of painting with contemporary technology. These jobs do not cease to be a remark on the question of technical reproducibility of the image, which brings more interest than the real itself. In a conference held in Paris, in February 2012, the artist projected a video that showed a woman walking through the crowd from the Louvre Museum and indiscriminately pointing her the phone to take pictures of the works of art, not even seeing what she was photographing; he also presented a photograph of a papal visit, where there were hundreds of cameras pointed on his direction. There was no interest to the real, but to the image of the real.
20. Lenticular printing requires the presence of the spectator in front of the work to be perceived, because vertical fillets of each image are brought and receive a plastic lens in which effect is such that we see one or another image as we move the work, recovering the irreducible dimension of experiencing the enjoyment in loco that art demands. See: Silvia Barreto, After Post, in <http://www.felipecama.com/after-post-texto>.
21. The titles refer to the original work: Dois nus parecidos, um after Courbet (2005), Quatro nus parecidos, dois after Picasso (2005-2006), Dois nus parecidos, um after Modigliani (2005), Nu (after Matisse)#1 (2004-2005), Nu (after Matisse)#2 (2010) and Nu (after Van Gogh) (2004-2005), among others.
22. The quality of the photographic technology employed to locate places reaches more and more precision; in some cases, one can see with great detail the image of the street, the building number and, depending on the angle photographed, even inside a residence. To associate contemporary technology features with the pictorial tradition is a common procedure in the photographic practices of today, as did Joan Fontcuberta, in the series Ortogénesi, generating, through the use of a software, images of works from Munch, Millet, Hokusai, Turner and Derain, among others.
23. Frans Post was in Brazil between 1634 and 1642.
BARRETO, Silvia. After Post. In: FELIPE Cama: txts. Available in: <http://www.felipecama.com/after-post-texto>. Access on February 18th, 2016.
DURAND, Régis. La Experiencia Fotográfica. Ciudad de México: Ediciones Ve, 2012.
ELKINS, James. História da arte e imagens que não são arte. Porto Arte, Porto Alegre, v. 18, n. 30, maio 2011.
MOREL, Gäel (Org.). Photojournalisme et Art Contemporain. Paris : Éditions des Archives Contemporaines, 2008.
PICAUDÉ, Valérie; ARBAÏZAR, Philippe (Org.). La confusión de los géneros en fotografía. Barcelona: Gustavo Gili, 2004.
PRATES, Dirnei. Interview with the author on January 15th, 2016.
Niura Legramante Ribeiro: Master of Arts by the School of Communication and Arts of University of São Paulo, ECA/USP, and Doctor in Arts by the Graduate Program in Visual Arts of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, PPGAV/UFRGS, with a thesis entitled Entre a lente e o pincel: interfaces de linguagens (Between the lens and the brush: languages interfaces). Professor and researcher of the Department of Visual Arts and of the PPGAV/ UFRGS. She conducts research, curatorships and publications about photography and its reverberations with painting, engraving and drawing.