The Perfect Document
20,5 x 28 cm, 44 p, ills colour, Dutch, English
design: Yana Foqué
Published by Art Paper Editions
Every conceivable object—from an ordinary thing to a readymade that is presented in an artistic context or an intentionally constructed artefact—once probably had a photographic pendant, either as a document or an artistic interpretation. On the one hand it’s a lovely and even comforting idea that things are given a second life, but on the other hand it’s a depressing thought that reveals something about our obsession to portray.
Since the rise of photography, objects are represented because of themselves, detached from context or surroundings. Because of the nature of their sculptures, mainly sculptors started using the new medium. Either to get their work out there, for commercial reasons, or to direct the view on their sculptures by establishing both literally and figuratively the viewpoint and guiding the direction of view. The urge to catalogue, perpetuate and document greets photography as a willing ally.
The immobility of a great deal of objects is cancelled out by the liveliness and speed of the camera. Everything can be seen and is seen. The photographic reproduction reduces the three-dimensional space to the flat, easily readable, surface. In every way a big help from a commercial and industrial perspective, but also a welcome opportunity on the artistic level. But through that flattening gesture, that transforms (or wants to transform) the object into an easily comprehensible image, another conflict originates. After all, nothing is more decisive than a fixed viewing point when it comes to leaving an impression. Obviously, this is one of photography’s main characteristics, but when shooting objects as representations of the original thing, things become somewhat more complicated. It’s an illusion to think the viewer gets to know the object through a picture. The unique viewpoint from which the object is seen, professes that the subject (or object) is being shown as fully as possible, an objective that is hardly ever met. What about the underside or backside of the object? And if one, using lots of tricks, succeeds in showing every little corner, wouldn’t the object look different in other light conditions? When considerations like this take over, an image that was easily readable before, becomes an extremely abstract reproduction.
In catalogues that sell objects or that function as witnesses for presentations of objects, these kinds of images are even more deprived of their readability. It is, of course, correct to remark that this idea is at odds with what one expects from these kinds of ‘objective overviews’. Nevertheless, in these publications it’s the context that makes the images relevant and provides the overall structure. Footnotes, specifications, references and symbols make the publication credible. These ‘inessentials’ – hardly noticeable parts of the type page, because that’s where they belong – seem to crystallize the whole thing.
The images an sich appeal to one’s imagination, but whether they are able to express the true nature of the represented image is less certain. The pictures on the lovely pages in catalogues by auctioneers like Sotheby’s or Nagel Auktionen are arranged as objectively and formally as possible. Opposed to their initial impression, these shots emanate a powerful contradiction. One of the main reasons is the technical perfection displayed in putting the objects on the screen. It makes the viewer calm down and be bound up in the beauty of this prestigious merchandise. This aesthetic choice already hides an actual contradiction. Even though the pictures we get to see look like extremely objective representations, they are the result of interventions that make them look that little bit nicer and more valuable. A tiny bit richer in colour, with exactly the right shine that makes the antiquated wood look genuinely authentic.
Apart from the fact they have little to do with the object they represent, these images are tremendously telling. This strange quality is revealed in the neatly delineated blocks of images, interlaced with footnotes and ‘essential’ explanations, surrounded by a rare lack of blank space. The photographic ‘reproductions’—as they are appropriately called —which we get to see, warrant the representation of their spatial counterparts that are probably stored somewhere, waiting for a new home base.
Although this next statement may collide with previous ideas, these images reach their goal: to transform threedimensional objects into two-dimensional images and by doing so inform and/or excite the viewer. The images an sich turn out to become invisible to the eye. They become a direct view on reality. A perfectly washed window, that seems to cease tot exist. Because we initially only see the represented objects, one could say that their images are (have to be) invisible themselves. And is a catalogue anything other than functional? This kind of book is rarely leafed through purposelessly (unless the motive is love or interest for the things represented by the images on these pages). Publications of this kind only exist in function of their market. They are the ‘evidence’ of the existence of the objects represented.