Édouard Manet, Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, 1862 Things to think about when studying:
Why was this painting so offensive to the public?
What historical works does Manet draw inspiration from?
How does the lighting of the scene show influence from the beginnings of photography?
Cave to Canvas has done an AP Art History study guide the past couple years. I always keep an eye out for photography stuff because I’m curious how it fits in the canon* and how much it’s kept distinct from everything else. So imagine my happiness when I saw the last question for Le déjeuner sur l’herbe.
In this case, we’re looking at studio lighting with its unrealistic look and lack of shadow. That this piece was so scandalous at the time* in part because of the unrealistic photographic lighting lays out a lot of the battles photography has had to fight to be accepted as art—and a lot of the battles within photography itself.
*In many ways this is the first modern artwork in that it’s about the artist’s vision to do whatever the fuck he wants. As much as I’m a Duchamp fanboy, yeah, Manet was freaking people out a half century before Duchamp came on the scene.
It’s interesting that Slate doesn’t mention (or if they do, it’s buried further than I skimmed) that this image has been circulating in blog posts much like this for at least five or six years.
This and other forms of implicit false photo presentism are a pretty common occurrence in the blogosphere. In the case of Vivian Maier, the same discovery happens with such regularity that we call it Vivian Maier O’clock. And the same couple of Marchand and Meffre photos crop up with a not dissimilar regularity in posts about Detroit.
Not ethnic mixing but a timely reminder of how the colonial viewpoint and racial-type photography and the documentation of otherness, no matter how well-intentioned, is problematic and often ends up saying more about the photographer than the cultures depicted.
Each of these elements demonstrates (some) of the vicissitudes of the original picture, but also provides at least a glimpse of the individual who took up arms in the cause of the revolution. Much more importantly, Molotov Man literally “re-frames” history in multiple ways. The past cohabits with the present; the history of the Sandinista revolution—now open to retrospective interpretation, the reference to the illegal American war against the Sandinista government (cf. the arming and funding of the contras), the fragility of historical memory—the list is easily enlarged. To do this work, Molotov Man required other media (video, objects, texts), a continued personal stake in Nicaragua’s ongoing history by Meiselas over several decades, and the demonstration that an “iconic” photograph is open to many uses and many meanings.
Love love love this post. Reminds me of what I liked best about Princeton’s Itinerant Languages of Photography show (also featuring Meiselas) and how photos can change meaning and be reappropriated through context and history and culture. I’d love to see more shows and blogposts which investigate the life of an image as it travels through time.
This project came up a while ago in the New Landscape Photography blog:
Greenham Common is land that was once heavily used by the Ministry of Defense and the US air force throughout World War II and the Cold War. Abandoned in 1997, it was left open for the public to roam….
Methods of perception in the military are just as important as physical weapons used for destruction, with infrared film being a key method of perception for the military. Therefore I photographed using infrared film to express the invisible happenings that occurred on the landscape. With rumors of nuclear activity and other unknown activities, it is a landscape that stands witness to many undisclosed goings-on.
This is one of those cases where I’m rather more interested in the statement than the actual photos. Two things grab my attention: one, infrared, because I ❤ infrared, and two, deliberate investigation/redployment of the mediation of perception by technology. Very cool, in principle.
However, these don’t appear to be characteristically infrared images. They look like regular black and white, perhaps with a red filter. It may be that Sharplin-Hughes is using a modern infrared film without a strong IR filter.1 In any case, while it’s an interesting idea to use infrared as a sort of magical invocation of military vision, without a visible connection to some variant of infrared imaging, it all seems sort of notional.
Also, I wonder if it wouldn’t be more interesting to use a more military perspective—for example, an aerial one. That being an even more fundamental method of military perception.
Modern infrared films are basically just standard panchromatic films with some added sensitivity in the infrared, and without a filter that blocks visible light, they don’t produce particularly “infrared” results. ↩