Throughout its relatively short cultural history, photographer’s studio backdrop has, alongside different props, served as a creative and imaginary place of wish fulfilment, aspirations or nostalgic longing. It has created and followed pictorial conventions, and at the same time broken with them. Lastly, in the digital age it has evolved into the ever and instantly changing backscreen in which the frivolous creativity seems to be unleashed in its fullness. Regardless of its form – either as a part of a fancy 19th century attic studio, characterless shopping mall cubicle, a makeshift setup in student admission office or as the portable backdrop of a street peddler portraitist – photographer’s backdrop is first and foremost a place of exchange of mastery of technique, desires, conventions and money. Guided by the wish it is a reproduction of prevailing social norms and conventions, or a temporary shelter from them. Even today there seems to be a certain charm in the sociability and ritualistic nature of old photographer’s studio backdrop practices. Not only that – backdrop always served as a background, a frame, an ideological grid – artistic and scientific – on which the object of interest, desire or investigation itself was superimposed, thus delineating, exposing, accentuating its features.
Artists and Projects
This essay traces the resurrection of the fotoescultura, a three-dimensional photographic portrait popular in rural Mexico in the early 20th century, as interpreted in recent works by Performing Pictures, a contemporary Swedish artist duo. The early fotoesculturas were an augmented form of portraiture, commissioned by family members who supplied photographs that artisans in Mexico City converted into framed sculptural portraits for display on family altars. We compare these »traditional« photographic objects with “new” digital forms of video animation on screen and in the public space that characterize Performing Pictures work, and explore how the fotoescultura inspired new incarnations of their series Men that Fall. At the intersection between the material aspects of a “traditional” vernacular art form and “new” media art, we identify a photographic aesthetic that shifts from seeing and perceiving to physical engagement, and discuss how the frame and its parergon augment the photographic gaze. The essay is accompanied by photos and video stills from Performing Pictures’ film poem Dreaming the Memories of Now (2018), depicting their work with the fotoesculturas.
MEMBRANA 5 / 2018 • ISSN 2463-8501 • https://doi.org/10.47659/m5
publisher: Membrana, Maurerjeva 8, 1000 Ljubljana • tel.: +386 (0) 31 777 959 • email: email@example.com
editors: Jan Babnik (editor-in-chief), Ilija T. Tomanić
editorial board: Mark Curran (Dublin Institute of Technology, Ireland; Freie Universität Berlin, Germany), Ana Peraica (independent researcher, educator, Croatia), Witold Kanicki (UAP Poznań, Poland), Miha Colner (International Centre for Graphic Arts, MGLC, Ljubljana, Slovenia), Lenart Kučić (independent journalist, Pod črto, Slovenia), Emina Djukić (University of Ljubljana, Slovenia), Jasna Jernejšek (independent researcher, curator, Slovenia), Asko Lehmuskallio (University of Tampere, Finland), Devon Schiller (independent researcher, USA), Robert Hariman (Northwestern University, USA) • advisory board: Alisha Sett, Andreia Alves de Oliveira, Iza Pevec, Matej Sitar
article contributors: Karin Becker, Geska Helena Brečević, Jasna Jernejšek, Martin Parr, Ana Peraica, Emina Djukić, Christopher Pinney, Paolo SH Favéro, Lukas Birk, Iza Pevec, Caroline Molloy, Janaki Somaiya, Helena Vogelsang, Urška Savič
translations: Tom Smith • proofreading: Tom Smith, Anja Kos
image & projects contributors: BIND Collective, Hrair Sarkissian, Martin Parr, Lukas Birk, Christopher Pinney, Naresh Bhatia, Ketaki Sheth, Caroline Molloy, Samsul Alam Helal, Janaki Somaiya, Daesung Lee, Noémie Goudal, Olja Triaška Stefanovič, Borut Peterlin, Dragan Arrigler, Josip Pelikan
design: Primož Pislak
printing: Cicero • print-run: 400
all images and texts © Membrana, except when noted otherwise • editorial photograph: Samsul Alam, from the series Love Studio, 2010–2015 • last page photo from: part of a backdrop, Icon Studio, Numawongo Market II, Bukasa Parish, Kampala, Uganda (photographers Tim Prince in Eddy Tumwine), 2014. Photograph by: Jan Babnik.