22 October 2009

Thomas Demand

Yellowcake, Embassy I ~ Photograph © Thomas Demand.

In The Nation this week is an essay by Barry Schwabsky on German photographer Thomas Demand or, more precisely, on a new exhibition of the photographer's work. Demand makes large images of staged or constructed scenes that are themselves derived from photographs. Here are some of the good bits:
“As is well-known by now, all of his photographs are taken in his studio; employing existing photographs, usually from the media but sometimes his own, as his sources, Demand uses paper, cardboard, cellophane and other flimsy, everyday materials to construct full-scale replicas of actually or formerly existing places. . . . These empty stage sets are what we see in the photographs. The reconstructions follow the general lineaments of their originals, but with most detail eliminated. In particular, every trace of language has completely vanished:. . . In general, since everything in the photographs has been newly built, nothing shows any signs of wear, any smudges or defects. Each thing has become a sort of abstraction of itself.”

"These images construct illusions only to deflate them. The image is empty, and eerily disinfected, and Demand makes sure you know it. You see the seams in every wall, the folding of the corners of the furniture. These are two-dimensional pictures of three-dimensional pictures based on other two-dimensional pictures of the real world. And how real is that, anyway? I suddenly feel like I've lost track."

"Demand's . . . work asks, among other things, . . . whether and how photographs can be about things that they are not of."
I do not know much about Demand, although I did post his contribution to the "Best Shot" series at The Guardian a couple of years ago now. The image above is the one he selected for that purpose. I recommend that you follow the links and read about it. It turns out, I think, that while Dmand's work is, as Schwabsky nicely reveals, about representation it also is about politics.



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