About the act of becoming in front of the camera

By Aina Pomar - Friday, March 18, 2016
About the act of becoming in front of the camera

Take a photograph of a street with a person riding a bicycle on the right side and a house on the left side of the picture. Then take an image of that same street, this time with a man jumping off the roof of the house and about to fall onto a tarpaulin held by seven men and with a photographer documenting the scene on the lower side of the picture. If you combine both photographs and remove the seven men and the photographer you will probably guess that the man suspended on the air is Yves Klein and that the image in question is 'Saut dans le Vide' (Leap into the Void, 1960).

About the act of becoming in front of the camera

Take a photograph of a street with a person riding a bicycle on the right side and a house on the left side of the picture. Then take an image of that same street, this time with a man jumping off the roof of the house and about to fall onto a tarpaulin held by seven men and with a photographer documenting the scene on the lower side of the picture. If you combine both photographs and remove the seven men and the photographer you will probably guess that the man suspended on the air is Yves Klein and that the image in question is 'Saut dans le Vide' (Leap into the Void, 1960).

Harry Shunk and János Kender, the authors responsible of creating the final photomontage in the darkroom, documented the making-off of this piece, which works, along with images by Aaron Siskind and Charles Ray, as the introduction to ‘Performing for the Camera’.

Curated by Simon Baker, the exhibition at Tate Modern opened last February and presents over five hundred images from the 1850’s to 2014 that represent somehow the different possible confrontations that we humans have with the camera.  

Walking across the exhibition rooms it becomes palpable that the camera creates a third entity between the photographer and the subject. This ephemeral relationship clearly promotes the development of a new identity for the person photographed, product of a collaborative performance. In the meantime, the photographer captures this provisional becoming and makes it last over time, leading the viewer to wonder about the nature of that photograph. Considering it a piece of documentation of an action would not give enough recognition to the photographer’s artistic talent. At the same time, seeing it only from the visual arts perspective, would also feel unfair towards the performer. 

Yves Klein (1928–1962). Photographers: Harry Shunk 1924–2006, János Kender 1938–2009. Yves Klein's 'Saut dans le Vide', Fontenay-aux-Roses, France, 1960. Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper. Courtesy of Centre Pompidou – Musée national d’art moderne - Paris – Fonds Shunk-Kender.Gift of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation in memory of Harry Shunk and János Kender © Yves Klein, ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016 /  Collaboration Harry Shunk and Janos Kender © J.Paul Getty Trust. The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles. (2014.R.20). Gift of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation in memory of Harry Shunk and Janos Kender

Reflections like this arise specially when walking across the firsts rooms of the exhibition, dedicated to ‘Documenting Performace’. With a particular focus on the 1960’s for its exceptional proliferation of happenings and artistic expressions of protest, the exhibition presents a large selection of images by the duo Shunk-Kender. Most of them belong to Tate’s collection and present, not only photographs from their collaborations with Klein, but also pieces created with other artists such as ‘Pier 18’ by Dan Graham. By unveiling their creative process and showing how they chose particular angles or zoomed in details of some images, ’Performing for the Camera’ allows the viewer to take distance from the original performance and contemplate the work developed behind the camera.

This is perhaps even more evident with Babette Mangolte’s shots of Trisha Brown and Yvonne Rainer’s performances, where we can see a rather subjective eye and a cinematic perspective emerging from her work as a filmmaker.

Eikoh Hosoe, b 1933, Simmon: A Private Landscape, 1971. Eikoh Hosoe courtesy of the artist, Akio Nagasawa Gallery | Publishing (Tokyo) and Jean-Kenta Gauthier (Paris) © The artist

An entire room painted in vibrant red is dedicated completely to Eikoh Hosoe, whose work ‘Kamaitachi’ is the result of his collaboration with dancer Tatsumi Hijikata. Hosoe’s projects present a very personal narrative, jumping from lineal to more conceptual ensembles, and perhaps for that reason a great part of them were intended to be presented as precious and exquisite publications.

Addressing the collaborative work of photographers and performers there is also a special section dedicated to Nadar. The 19th century photographer worked with many actors, creating iconic portraits of Sarah Bernhardt and Jean Charles Deburau as the clown Pierrot. 

Amalia Ulman, Excellences & Perfections (Instagram Update, 8th July 2014),(#itsjustdifferent), 2015. Courtesy the Artist & Arcadia Missa

Lee Friedlander’s self-portraits are expanded on the wall covering different moments of his life between 1964 and 2012, allowing the viewer to construct his biographical constellation. It is possible that these photographs represent moments of reflection, little breaks in his practice to place himself in front of the camera and be aware of what one becomes when is the subject of the photograph. Perhaps this has given him the motivation to keep photographing others over the years with the honesty and unique style that characterises Friedlander.  

Masahisa Fukase, From Window. 1974. Courtesy Michael Hoppen Gallery. © Masahisa Fukase Archives

Self-portraits have, for obvious reasons, a great representation in this exhibition combining humorous works with more solemn and evocative images. While Masahisa Fukasa performs a lonely playful game in the bath through the work ‘Bukubuku’ (Bubbling, 1991), Thomas Maileander plays the role of a man claiming his right to avoid family responsibilities. Francesca Woodman’s intriguing mis-en-scenes are not only representations of the self, but possibly a way of escape from this same self, resulting in cruelly beautiful photographs of a process of becoming someone else. In this sense, the show also includes work by experts on the art of disguise such as Claude Cahun, Cindy Sherman and Samuel Fosso, masquerade as different black political icons.

Erwin Wurm, b.1954. One Minute Sculpture, 1997. c-print. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong

Erwin Wurm includes the sculptural element to the dichotomy performance-photography with his series of one-minute sculptures, demonstrating that the body is often the best of the mediums. 

The section ‘Public Relations’, dedicated to the relation between the artist and mass media, is unavoidably an ode to the ego. With names by Warhol, Koons and Beuys, the works by female artists such as Hannah Wilke and Valie Export contribute more significantly to the show.

Boris Mikhailov b.1938. Crimean Snobbism, 1982. Courtesy of the artist and Sprovieri Gallery, London. © Boris Mikhailov 

The exhibition ends with a look into how cameras are integrated in our lives and how this affects our behaviour. The proliferation of images is so present in the current times that we give them for granted, knowing that at any moment our live can become a performance for the camera. Amalia Ulman brings this idea to the limit with her project ‘Excellences & Perfections’, for which she adopted the personality of a wealthy young girl going through cosmetic surgery, using Instagram as her chronicle platform. Similarly, Romain Mader, who often places himself as a subject of his projects, imagined a trip to Ukraine to find a girlfriend through his photographic work ‘Ekaterina’.

Claude Cahun, 1894 - 1954. Self Portrait, 1927. Image courtesy of the Wilson Centre for Photography

There is a certain imbalance in the exhibition, which seems to combine various solo shows (this is particularly the case with Shunk-Kender) and collective surveys. In some of the sections, the viewer can appreciate that other topics inherent to each project stand out and collide with each other.

Being this not an obstacle to enjoy the exhibition, ‘Performing for the Camera’ certainly covers the topic from multiple angles and presents an excellent selection of artists. Each work is a pleasure for the eyes.

‘Performing for the Camera’ runs until the 12th June 2016 at Tate Modern, London.

Aina Pomar graduated in Sociology and Photography before completing a Master in New Media Art Curatorship. She has collaborated with Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró in Majorca and with CCCBLab and Fundació Foto Colectania in Barcelona. She moved to London to work at the Cultural Office of the Embassy of Spain, where she coordinated visual arts and exhibition projects with the aim of promoting Spanish culture and artists across the United Kingdom. She currently collaborates with various galleries and art projects in London.

Subscribe to the Newsletter

Image of the Day

Museo Jumex (a private art collection based in Mexico City, Mexico) / David Chipperfield. Image © Simon Menges

Museo Jumex (a private art collection based in Mexico City, Mexico) / David Chipperfield. Image © Simon Menges

Search

About ArtDependence

ArtDependence Magazine is an international magazine covering all spheres of contemporary art, as well as modern and classical art.

ArtDependence features the latest art news, highlighting interviews with today’s most influential artists, galleries, curators, collectors, fair directors and individuals at the axis of the arts.

The magazine also covers series of articles and reviews on critical art events, new publications and other foremost happenings in the art world.

If you would like to submit events or editorial content to ArtDependence Magazine, please feel free to reach the magazine via the contact page.