May 17: That sneaky Henri Cartier-Bresson had us fooled all along.
All that talk of images a la sauvette, and ‘The Decisive Moment’? Hanging about in 1932 behind the Gare St. Lazare in the drizzle with his Leica IIIC? In the most unattractive surroundings? Capturing the very moment as a portly chap in a hat jumps a puddle using a makeshift ladder left by workmen caught in a downpour? Anticipating that the hurried clerk’s reflection will appear in the puddle and duplicate, at a precise diagonal, a similar leaping figure in the billboard poster on the railing, also duplicated, while at the dead centre a static, lumpen figure stands, also reflected, to provide a counterpoint to all this motion?. And railings too? Running ratatatata, like a child’s stick, like a movie projection, across the image, and then, and then, a string of poles, also diagonal, aim right at the jumping man…oh, and a clock as well…? I mean…c’mon! It can’t happen.
And it didn’t. It was a fake, all set up in the studio with a bit of mylar, a white backdrop, a few flash units and springs and things…
Photo London holds its previews today and will open to the public tomorrow. Their website provides plenty of opportunity to do the preview from anywhere in the world, with a VR walkthrough and pages of their website devoted to each gallery which is represented at this art fair. Ninety-nine of them are housed in vast, rambling Somerset House on the Strand, adjacent to Covent Garden and the theatre district, Waterloo Bridge and the Victoria Embankment, and home to the arts for nearly a century and the Courtauld Institute since 1989. Most of them are exhibiting the work of more than one photographer.
East Wing will present the duo, Swiss-based artists Jojakim Cortis (*1978, Aachen, Germany) & Adrian Sonderegger (*1980, Bülach, Switzerland), and yes, they are responsible for the fake Cartier-Bresson.
Just to reassure you, here is his original negative, shot with his Leica in 1932, almost at the very beginning of his career as the world’s best known 35mm photographer.
You can see why it is one of only very few (some say only two) images that he ever cropped:
There was a plank fence around some repairs behind the Gare Saint Lazare train station. I happened to be peeking through a gap in the fence with my camera at the moment the man jumped. The space between the planks was not entirely wide enough for my lens, which is the reason why the picture is cut off on the left.
Its studio recreation is from the show Icons by Cortis & Sonderegger who have studied the classics, the most-sought and the most expensive collectors’ treasures of photography by by Henri Cartier Bresson, William Eggleston, Man Ray, Ansel Adams and Andreas Gursky, analysed their lighting, camera angles, points-of-view and lens perspectives, and set about making them all over again in the studio. Their quarry is the familiar image reproduced time and again in endless anthologies of the greats of photography, as in Hans-Michael Koetzle’s Photo icons : the story behind the pictures 1827-1991 (Taschen, 2002)
For the Cartier-Bresson, as for all of the pieces in the exhibition Icons, the margin of the image presents their “story behind the great picture”, and that margin is designed in three-dimensional space as a wedge narrowing toward the camera, so as to present, in a print, an even border all round. Somehow this creates an image which is more three-dimensional than the original. Is this because we are aware of our closer proximity to the smaller model where Cartier-Bresson was at metres from his subject? The design of Cortis & Sonderegger’s construction sets up a vacillation in our perception of scale. There is a minor difference from the 1932 original where the workman in the background stands behind the railing, while in theirs he is in front, but otherwise this is a convincing replica, but uncanny in its effect on anyone familiar with this formative Cartier-Bresson classic.
The two began working collaboratively while studying at Zurich University of the Arts in 2005, then set up a business partnership in editorial, advertising and architectural photography. They count amongst their commissions the magazines Annabelle, BAK, Beobachter, Bolero, Carta, Das Magazin, Die Zeit, Ds Photographers, DU, Équipe, FIFA Weekly, Flashextra, Friday , Greenpeace, Hochparterre, Migros Magazin, Neon, NIVO, NZZ TOOLBOX, One, Paarkunst, Passagen, PHOTO 09, Saisonelle, Schweizer Familie, Soiree Graphique, Sonntags Zeitung, Spiegel, Stern, Stolzen OpenAir, SURFACE, SUVA, UBS Service, VIA, Vivai, Weltwoche, Z-Magazin, ZHDK.
Below are two of their editorial illustrations; one on cancer, its sinister ability to spread being represented by these blue dominos, while the other, a man falling through a parquetry floor, appends an article about the value of anxiety. The history of this pair in communicating effectively and vividly in visual images is behind the high quality of their Icons.
Icons is a personal project that they have been exhibiting since 2013, though they have had shows together since the early 2000s. Clearly these recreations have taken much longer to make. The series has been attracting the attention of the press and social media since 2013. It will be excellent for their business; if you want someone who is on top of studio lighting and sets, these are the guys to call!
We had the idea of copying and reproducing the most famous pictures since the invention of photography. An important criterion when selecting an image was the feasibility: could we reproduce the scenery in the studio? Another important point of our work is credibility. We have recreated some pictures which were in themselves unbelievable events. For example the moon landing, Loch Ness or 09/11. Through the reproduction in the studio, we question the event even more.
Each of the tableaux is set up in front of a window in their studio which is usually covered, but interesting is their treatment of the world’s first photograph by Niecéphore Niépce, which is set before an open window looking out over rooftops, echoing Niépce’s arrangement and with the same orientation toward the south. Their La cour du domaine du Gras becomes transparent, a backlit image on glass quite unlike the scratched and battered pewter of the original object. Under the paraphernalia of the studio, spray bottles, sanding block and clamp, and behind a toothbrush lies Geschichte der Photographie by Beaumont Newhall, translated into German by Reinhard Kaiser (1998). These guys know their history and their transformation is deliberate, and prompts of this as a Janus image, sitting on a threshold through which we can look back at the period in which the only images were those made by human beings, and forward into a future in which reality could form its own image, ad infinitum.
These dioramas have a pedigree that stretches right back to Daguerre, to his. That is a subject that they have been pursuing in earlier personal work.
Other spectacles have also attracted them and clearly has fed the idea of Icons, including opera (here they show the flip side of the proscenium arch of the Opernhaus Zürich), and the advertising studio itself, but also scientific laboratories and emergency services in procedures are rehearsed in controlled stagings.
In our work, Places, we portray different locations where emergency situations are practiced by using simulations of accidents and rooms in which opportunities for new experiences are provided by creating artificial worlds. These new experiences should be more dense, untroubled and offer more intense experiences than those we have in “real life.” We are interested in…laboratory situations… The constructed nature of these environments is fascinating—environments in which people simulate reality.
In their final compositions they pull back a pace to reveal their studio and working methods, the ‘backstage’ of their craft. By including the simple materials used in their constructions (paint, glue, cotton wool, etc.), the picture in the picture becomes ‘The Making of…”, with the inner image acting as the historical original, remembered, perhaps vaguely by the viewer, but which we discover is a recreation when the surround expands into the present. A third picture is inferred, though not actually shown, and that is the ‘genuine original’, the archival photograph.
The icon is a visual phenomenon that is intended to engender awe. It is a type of image used in many religions. Cortis & Sonderegger’s fanatically patient and fastidious reconstructions also inspire awe, but they remind us that images acquire icon status and reveal a secular Sublime, and most are photographs.