December 4: There are enough photographs, billions, so why not make use of those existing, and instead of adding more, subtract from them?
Two artists challenge us, through various strategies and interventions to re-examine existing imagery for things we have not noticed before, and here they are, exhibiting together at Fotogalerie Wien, Währinger Strasse 59/WUK, 1090 Vienna, where today Vienna’s dedicated photography gallery opens Anita Witek‘s and Alexandra Baumgartner‘s show COLLAGE II: Welcome Home, continuing until January 20.
When contemplating Victorian and Edwardian photographs, one might consider the prominence of chairs, though usually they go unnoticed. Observing that they are given as much space as the human figures portrayed, anyone might wonder what or who is the subject.
They feature in the first photographs such as this self-portrait by the Rev. Calvert Jones (right), born on this day in 1804, in which he uses one to steady himself for this undated picture. Despite being photographed outdoors and in brilliant sunshine, the chair is a necessary prop during an exposure of many seconds, so the picture was probably made made in the 1840s (there is no record of Calvert Jones having taken any photographs after 1856).
Reverend Jones had only a passing interest in saving souls. An enthusiastic traveller he was close friends with Henry Fox Talbot’s Welsh cousin, Kit Talbot, the ‘wealthiest commoner in Britain’ and, handily for Jones, owner of an excellent sea-going yacht.
Jones was a distant relative of John Dillwyn Llewelyn and through him became a friend of Fox Talbot and keenly followed their pioneering efforts in negative/positive photography. A maritime painter in his formative years, he first made daguerrotypes before adopting Fox Talbot’s calotype process as more suited to an artist (very likely they were the models for some of his fine drawings) and becoming one its leading exponents.
Calvert Jones’ innovative style led to his own creation of wide angle and panoramic views for architectural photography for which he employed a photomontage process, amongst the earliest applied, which enabled him to align two photographs taken across a wide scene, such as his study of Kit Talbot’s sprawling Margam Hall in which chairs once again appear outside, supporting some rather portly subjects.
Alexandra Baumgartner’s works draw on found photographs, often historical portraits, and she also montages them, cutting and sewing, over-painting and over-pasting, burning away parts or mounting sections of one image inside another so that holes open up that permit a view of what lies underneath. Her tactics divert us from the original purpose of the photograph, say a portrait, in order to focus attention on what else they may contain, such as that chair, or what unexpected phenomena they may evoke, such as levitation, spiritualism and here, hysteria, reusing clinical pictures by Jean-Martin Charcot (1825—1893) whose;
power over women sickened me and made me turn the power relations upside down. The woman’s posture reveals that she pulls the strings, the chairs are freely balanced, there is nothing holding them together so they are always prone to collapse. I liked to produce this fragile moment where anytime everything could just break down. [read more at Julia Hartmann‘s excellent blog JULES & ART: International Studio Visits and Exhibitions]
In Baumgartner’s imagery circular cut-outs puncture the images, or circles of black ink obliterate the ostensible subject.
Co-exhibitor Anita Witek, installs pieces specially created for Welcome Home. They are compact versions of previous works that were large enough to walk into and here take the form of folding screens. She also pierces her found material. Her three-dimensional collages draw on ephemeral mass media;
…magazines, both contemporary and vintage, collected from flea markets, paper refuse bins. I also collect advertising banners from old billboard campaigns, which I have recently started to use in my work. Cutting an image from its original context (that of the photographer who captured and printed it) frees it from its index and opens up a realm of possibilities for how that image can be used. I am working not with the overall subject but with the things that we might not necessarily notice. (2015 Studio International interview)
From them, the central visual information has been removed, the punctum punctured, leaving only the backgrounds, our consumer desires excised with the knife, leaving only voids in their shape as paradoxical abstract formations;
The act of cutting is as much about producing content as it is about erasing content. In my method, I am constantly layering paper so there is never a complete void.