Form and the photograph: bodily dimensions

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David Hockney

form in the photograph: David Hockney

Between about 1970 and 1986, British artist David Hockney produced numerous works consisting of multiple photographic prints or Polaroids.

The first examples of these photo-montages consisted of individual snaps arranged in grids to create a whole. The camera remained stationary, capturing the movement of figures over time (left).

From the early 1980s, Hockney altered his approach by photographing subjects from various angles, overlapping the resulting images to create sprawling composites (below, left).

Dubbed 'joiners' by the artist, the many different viewpoints recall the representational strategies of Cubism. Both techniques also make use of layered time, a temporal dimension which (arguably) cannot be captured in a single image.

form in the photograph: David Hockney
Images © David Hockney

Although by the '80s Hockney was generally considered an establishment artist, these works introduce a technique which would later become commonplace, a pioneering revision of conventional photographic portraiture.


Daniel Gordon

New dimensions in contemporary photography: Daniel Gordon
Image © Daniel Gordon

US artist Daniel Gordon collects photographs from sources such as the internet in order to construct three-dimensional tableaux which are then photographed in turn.

By choosing to convert these works back into flat, paper-based images - just like those from which they were originally constructed - Gordon's practice is essentially cyclical.

This stance, which resembles the approach taken by several of the other artists featured here, underlines the perpetual re-distribution of imagery that characterises contemporary culture.

Gordon's grotesquely hybrid forms further suggest the bastardised, disruptive nature of such recycling.


Jan Smaga

contemporary photography: Jan Smaga

(b. 1974) Much of Polish artist Jan Smaga's work is concerned with capturing the essence of three dimensions within a two-dimensional plane.

His startling portraits of his parents (Skin, Mum and Dad, 2007) present the ovoid form of the head as a map-like, flattened terrain in which all aspects of the subject are simultaneously visible (left).


contemporary photography: Jan Smaga

Anetka (Scotch Tape) (left) depicts a female nude in various poses.

Each is a separate photograph, cut from its background and positioned within a group before being re-photographed as a composite portrait of sculptural human form.

A related image, Dog (below), introduces a further figure: a male nude cloaked in dozens of the cut-outs.

Prostrate beneath a swarm of images which threaten to obscure his very identity, the work provides a powerful commentary on male fetishism and desire.

Of equal interest, however, is the use of the photograph as a sculptural and performative medium.

Employed as a type of covering or skin, functionality is radically redefined and its subject implicated in wider narratives.

photography now: Jan Smaga
Images © Jan Smaga

Cristian Chironi

contemporary performance and the photograph: Cristian Chironi

Two works by Italian artist Cristian Chironi (b. 1974) utilise the photograph as a performative medium in similar ways to Jan Smaga (above).

The sewing machine in the background of Untitled 2 (left) reminds us of the fortuitous play on the word 'material', with its dual significance in English as either a fabric or medium.

As Chironi clothes himself in multiple copies of a photographic print, the identity of its subject - and Chironi's specific intention - can only be guessed at, but the emotive power of his action is clear.

contemporary photography: Cristian Chironi
Images © Cristian Chironi

Lina (left) again sees the artist wrapping himself in a photographic image while completing everyday tasks.

Both works play specifically with the theme of identity intrinsic to the portrait, while attempting to reconfigure the photograph itself as a plastic medium integrated with the body.


Gwon Osang / Oliver Herring

Gwon Osang

A logical progression to representation of the human figure as a solid form is found in the work of Korean artist Gwon Osang (left) and US-based German Oliver Herring (below), both of whom use photographs to create three-dimensional figurative sculptures.

Shooting their subjects from all possible angles, dozens of prints are then pieced together over a pre-prepared framework.

photographic sculpture
Image © Oliver Herring

There's little stylistic difference between the two artists' work, although Osang was the first to utilise the technique and his photo-sculptures are generally far better known.

Far less familiar, however, is his series of photographs entitled The Flat (below), which form a fascinating counterpoint to his three-dimensional studies.

Mimicking the appearance of complex photo-collages, these intricate compositions are in fact created by photographing large assemblages of cut-out imagery.

Arranged upright and typically extending across an entire room (the far walls can just be made out in each image), Osang's quest to optically flatten form essentially reverses the technique outlined above, approximating the mechanics of the camera itself.

Form in contemporary photography: Gwon Osang
Images © Gwon Osang

Chris Jones

Contemporary photography and sculptural form

UK artist Chris Jones (b. 1975) recycles photographic imagery from sources such as posters, magazines and books to create life-size sculptural objects.

While essentially mimetic, they are also endowed with a fragmentary, hallucinatory quality that emphasises an imperfect translation from image to form. Jones' works are clearly meant to be seen as illusory, a representation of a representation.

A cross between Gwon Osang and Oliver Herring's life-like sculpture and David Gordon's more gestural dioramas, Jones's repurposing of imagery disturbs as much as it fascinates.

Photography now, Chris Jones
Images © Chris Jones

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