November 26: Today is the birthdate of Guido Rey in 1861.
We tend to regard appropriation in photography as a postmodern phenomenon, but of course one has only to think of Julia Margaret Cameron to conjure images of her servant Mary Hillier as Raphaelesque Madonna to realise that the impulse to imitate, or directly copy, artworks in other media is as old as photography itself. To consider the camera obscure and the camera lucida and their uses in painting and we don’t need Walter Benjamin to explain to us what impact mechanical, read lens-based, technology has had. Some of the first lensed images preserved by the medium in its infancy were the engravings copied by Niecephore Niepce.
The tableau vivant is a parlour game or public display which was s subject adopted in early photography as an ideal manner of artistic picture making ideally suited to the slow exposures and cumbersome equipment of the medium in this period. It is described at length by Mrs Severn in The Lady Companion; or, Sketches of Life, Manners, and Morals, at the Present Day (1854) who defines tableau vivant thus:
its real purpose is to arrange scientifically a combination of natural objects, so as to make a good picture, according to the rules of art.
A tableau vivant is literally what its name imports— a living picture composed of living persons; and, when skilfully arranged and seen at a proper distance, it produces all the effect of a real picture.
Guido Rey, wealthy enough to pursue photography and to travel, made this series of tableaux based closely on paintings by Vermeer. Using props appropriate to the period of the Dutch ‘Golden Age’ from his own possessions and borrowed from friends, he constructed scenes…
The little-known Carlos Ducoin lived in Lille in northern France and was a hobbyist painter. A baker, he probably took up photography after he retired in 1900. His ‘living sculptures’ look as if they have been dipped in a dough, but are creditable examples of this genre. He died in 1917.
Josef Jindřich Šechtl had a wide variety of interests in photography, including portrait photography and photojournalism. His fine art photography influenced by photographic pictorialism (including use of the bromoil process. He worked from the Šechtl & Voseček studio after he inherited it from his father. Their photographs are not usually signed so it is unclear which photographs taken during 1897–1911 were taken by Josef Jindřich or Ignác Šechtl. However it was due to Josef Jindřich’s that the studio started to publish large photo essays on important events, and sold postcards of them. The earliest documented the Sokol gymnastic festival (Slet). An associated series of images of ‘live statues’ in 1911 were arranged for Sokol with sculptor Jan Vítězslav Dušek.
Scenes on the Death of Nature, Scene III, 1986. Image by Anne Ferran
Scenes on the Death of Nature toured Australia from 1986 until 2006. It first stopped at The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in South Bank, from March 19, 1987 until April 19, 1987. After this brief stint in Melbourne the exhibition was moved to the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, from February 10, 1989, until May 15, 1989. It returned to the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1993 once more for the exhibition entitled ‘Points of view: Australian Photography 1985-95’. The exhibition consisted of five large (148.5 cm x 109.5 cm)  black and white prints of young women draped across one another. The women were dressed in long flowing plain white garments with stony facial expressions in order to recreate the appearance of a neoclassical sculpture. All of the images in Scenes of death of nature contain elements of feeling imprisoned; the black frames that house the photographs themselves are representative of the square wrought iron bars used in prisons and institutions during 19th century. It focused on the mistreatment of incarcerated colonial women.
This series of photographs was taken in my street in Hackney, 1997. the squatted street I lived in for 15 years. Its name comes from a Hackney Gazette headline calling my neighbourhood \’The Ghetto\’ and goes on to describe my home; \”The neighbourhood is a crime-ridden derelict ghetto, a cancer- a blot on the landscape. Why would people want to live there anyway?\” me and over 100 others, that\’s who. This work is on permanent display at the Museum of London
Myself and the residents who made up this community were fighting eviction as squatters. The title of the series comes from the wording used in our eviction orders. The postures and gestures reference Vermeer\’s paintings and set out to give status and dignity to our community.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is inspired by Shakespeare’s play and the paintings of Romantic artist Henry Fuseli. This contemporary reworking of the play is set in Hackney, East London and features local people and communities including samba dancers, pearly kings and queens, a thrash metal band and a pole dancer. Taking key moments from the play, I have distilled Shakespeare’s work into a series of images which weave together contemporary city life with that of the celebrated tale of love and illusion. This series of nine works was commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company to celebrate their 50th birthday season.