Fotograf Magazine

A substitute for the original, or something more? Notes on a new book on photographs and sculptures.

In the 1950s, André Malraux applauded the ability of photographic
reproduction to decontextualize artworks even more consistently than
classical museum of arts. Malraux’s idea of making artworks from
various cultures equal through photography (The Imaginary Museum
of World Sculpture) reminds us of another photographic project of
that time: Steichen’s exhibition Family of Man (1955), showing mostly
works by Western artists, yet trying to present photography as an
instrument of interpersonal understanding and a proof of equality of
people all over the world.

The texts published in Photography and Sculpture have quite
a different perspective. They point out that photography not only
deprives artworks of their original context but also creates completely
new contexts and meanings. At the same time, the texts also question
the popular claim that photography has democratized art and made
it accessible to the masses. An example of this can be Walker
Evans’s photos of African sculptures (African Negro Art, New York: The
Museum of Modern Art, 1935), mentioned by several authors in the
books. Suzanne Preston Blier, for example, says that we should rather
talk about colonialism than democratization: while the travelling exhibition
with the original works was intended for the white elite (traditional visitors
to the museums of art), Evans’s photographs of the sculptures were
circulated at schools in the south of the USA.

If art historians ever dealt with photographs of artworks in the past,
they applauded first their truthfulness and easy reproducibility, and later
their ability to frame reality in detail or in an unusual point of view. In the
context of structuralism and post-structuralism, attempts have been made
to describe the relationship between the photographic image and the
displayed reality – either as a print or a changed piece of information.

Photography and Sculpture shows that besides these already
proven perspectives, there is a number of others, gradually discovered
and equally important for the understanding of the relation between
photography and sculpture, including the political and sociological
aspects of photography or the materiality of photography itself. In one
of the summary papers included at the end of the book, Geraldine A.Johnson says that even photographs are objects with sculptural qualities. That is why many of the presented themes are inspiring not only in relation to the history of art, but also for thinking about photography and sculpture in contemporary art.

Hana Buddeus

Hamill, Sarah a Megan R. Luke. Photography and Sculpture: the Art Object in
Reproduction. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2017. Issues & Debates. ISBN