Shotgun Review

Fabricated Reality

By Larissa Archer August 1, 2011

Despite the sometimes disturbing effectiveness of Photoshop, we still expect photography to show us something that at least seems real. It’s understood that the freedom to contrive entire alternate worlds belongs to the painter, sculptor, writer, or dramatist—any artist whose work is to dream up and “craft” a subject from beginning to end. But for all the gimmicks available to the photographer, not only with Photoshop, but now also with the retro effects of Hipstamatic and Instagram, the camera still records what is in front of it, leaving us with the assumption that there is a limit to how outré the resultant images can be.

Fabricated Realities debunks that expectation. The artists, who represent fifty years of experimental photography, achieved their bizarre tableaux through various means, such as photomontage, collage, photogram, and even through the technique of photographing a subject’s reflection in a funhouse mirror, as with André Kertész’s Distortion #70 (variant) (1933/1979). In this image, a woman stands like a fashion model, hair coiffed in finger waves, hand on hip. She is naked under her overcoat, which hangs open to reveal one breast. That breast is central to both the composition of the photograph and to the mirror itself, so the distortion emanates from the focal point of the nipple, as if a visual representation of the warping effect of sex on the mind: a siren-song and resultant destruction in one. Florence Henri’s photomontage Composition (1936) recalls the scuola metafisica paintings of de Chirico, with its placement of classical subjects (in this case the fallen head of what looks like a Greek sculpture from the Archaic period) in a historically ambiguous environment delineated by sharply contrasting light and shadows. It also shares with de Chirico’s work a sense of stymied vitality, the flowing-haired gods of antiquity frozen like bugs in a static and desolate landscape.

André Kertész. Distortion #70 (variant) (1933/1979); gelatin silver print; 10 x 8 in. Courtesy of Robert Koch Gallery, San Francisco.

That Surrealism and experimental art depict "alternate worlds," as they are purported to do, isn’t quite accurate—or at least it is a lazy interpretation of the often bizarre, weirdly beautiful, or ugly "worlds" depicted, which happen not to look like what is normally seen through a camera’s viewfinder. Fabricated Realities highlights the fact that these creations can convey ideas about this world and our experience of it that are as vivid as anything Realism or any other genre has to offer.



Fabricated Reality is on view at Robert Koch Gallery, in San Francisco, through August 27, 2011.



Larissa Archer is a writer and theatre worker living in San Francisco.

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