As the latest exhibition at Dubai’s East Wing Gallery shows, a project that started out as a “kind of joke” has become a full-time job that has catapulted Jojakim Cortis and Adrian Sonderegger from the world of commercial photography into the realm of fine art.
In 2012, the Zurich-based duo found themselves with time on their hands. “It was during the summer and there were no jobs and no money coming so we decided to copy the world’s most expensive photograph,” explains Cortis, who met Sonderegger at art school in 2001.
Using materials and techniques more associated with hobbyist model-making than photography, Cortis and Sonderegger recreated Andreas Gursky’s Rhein II (1999), a print of which was sold at auction in 2011 for US$4.3 million (Dh15.8m), before turning to the next most expensive images on the list.
“There were two or three close-ups by Cindy Sherman,” Cortis says, “but we couldn’t reconstruct them so we thought about what pictures it would make sense to copy, pictures that people know better.”
What followed is a series of 28 models that recreate images that define the history of photography as well as collective memory: First World War soldiers silhouetted above a salient; a lone protester facing-down tanks in Tiananmen Square, China; and the Hindenburg disaster, an image now associated as much with the cover of Led Zeppelin’s eponymous first album as the 1937 original.
Once each model is finished, the photographers create a carefully arranged and lit tableaux that shows their creation in-situ. There is no pretence that the image is anything other than a reconstruction.
“We show all of the materials and tools, precisely because we don’t want to fool the viewer,” Cortis explains. “We want to encourage the viewer not to trust every photograph they see.”
Of Cortis and Sonderegger’s model photographs, 23 are on display in the Icons exhibition at East Wing, including the Making of “Five Soldiers Silhouette at the Battle of Broodseinde” shot by Ernest Brooks in 1917, and the Making of “Frame 371”, which recreates the moment from Abraham Zapruder’s dramatic footage that captured President John F Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.
The duo aim to complete another 12 of the complex models by the end of this year. As Cortis says: “We don’t have time to do anything else at the moment because the pictures aren’t getting any easier.”
• Icons opens on April 14 and runs until May 26. A talk with Cortis and Sonderegger takes place at 2pm on Saturday, April 16, at East Wing Gallery (www.east-wing.org).
Nick Leech is a features writer at The National.
Source: art & life