Form and the photograph: forms of display

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John Baldessari

John Baldessari

In 1966, veteran US artist John Baldessari (b. 1931) vowed to destroy all previous artworks and turn his attention exclusively to photocollage.

This decision, which was greeted with consternation at the time, is often credited with helping to establish the validity of the photograph within fine art practice.

Baldessari was an early exponent of experimental form, frequently incorporating several differently sized images into larger structures (left).

Overturning the conception of rectilinear photographic space, his amalgams combine arresting physical shape with the extended narrative potential of adjoined images.

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Peter Coffin

Peter Coffin

(b. 1972) US artist Peter Coffin's multi-disciplinary practice draws inspiration from areas such as art history, science and New Age thought.

His numerous versions of Untitled (Rainbow) define a wall-based spiral by overlapping found photographs of rainbows (left).

Creating a continuous swirl of depicted prismatic light, the spiral shape references one of the most ancient of all symbols, as well as echoing the curves of the rainbow itself.

A 2006 multiple applies three-dimensional form to this signature work.

Peter Coffin

Housed in an apparently normal photo album, a cluster of pop-up images springs into view as the album is opened (left).


Wolfgang Tillmans

Wolfgang Tillmans has always shown marked interest in the physical nature of the photograph.

His distinctive installation methods bring together works of varying size and subject, both framed and unframed, in what the artist has termed "networks of images and meanings".

This self-curatorial mode of display, in which associative and spatial concerns add collective nuance to individual artworks, has proved highly influential, widely reflected in the practice of many younger artists and photographers alike.

An even more diverse array of content is featured in Tillmans' ongoing Truth Study Center series (below, begun in 2006), which combines his own photographs with printed matter such as book extracts, newspaper cuttings and found materials.

Wolfgang Tillmans
Wolfgang Tillmans

Placed under glass on tables, these collage-like arrangements take on the appearance of museum exhibits while also referencing a common method of displaying family photographs and keepsakes.

Blurring distinctions between the domestic and the institutional, the emphasis on horizontal rather than vertical viewing also invites a particular engagement with the material on show.

And in purely sculptural terms, each module can be shown separately or as part of a larger installation (above).


Katalin Deér

Katalin Deér

(b. 1965) US/Swiss artist Katalin Deér merges the disciplines of photography, architecture and sculpture.

Using materials such as concrete, plaster and wood, Deér creates simple architectonic forms and items of furniture into which she incorporates photographic images.

Frequently re-photographing these objects, the resulting prints are used in further constructions or simply taped to walls.

Emphasising the material nature of the photograph, Deér simultaneously acknowledges the ubiquity of its presence.

sculptural form in contemporary photography
Images © Katalin Deér

Wang Du

sculptural form in contemporary photography

Paris-based Chinese artist Wang Du took thousands of photographs of his home country and people in order to create the monumental work International Kebab (2008, left).

Blown up to poster size, the photographs - weighing an extraordinary 7 tons - are then impaled on a 9-metre-high spike to create a gigantic paper tower.

Visitors who climb the surrounding scaffolding are invited to cut away slices of the installation, a 'take-away' sample of Wang Du's ambitious piece.

Wang Du

Rashid Rana

Rashid Rana

Pakistani/Canadian artist Rashid Rana (b.1968) is principally known for figurative montages made up of hundreds of tiny, colour-coordinated photographs.

The subject of these smaller images often jars uneasily with the larger picture they create, initiating an internal critique or commentary.

Red Carpet (2007, left; close-up detail below) is one of a series of large-scale representations of traditional Islamic carpets.

Rashid Rana

Consisting of miniature images of a slaughterhouse, the juxtaposition here of a formidable artistic legacy with scenes of death and dismemberment is more complex than it may at first appear.

While apparently contrasting creative potential with human brutality, butchery is itself an ancient craft, strictly regulated by spiritual concerns and complex skills.

Rana's 'fabric' of woven imagery adds open-ended nuance to the symbolic significance of traditional carpet-weaving.


Rashid Rana
Images © Rashid Rana

Desperately Seeking Paradise (2008, left) is a large, polished stainless steel cube gridded with photographs of contemporary Lahore.

Revealing different cityscapes from every angle and creating a bewildering array of internal reflections, Rana's portrait of a complex conurbation equally refers to to the cubic form of the revered Kaaba.


Clunie Reid

Clunie Reid

UK artist Clunie Reid's use of the photographic medium is paradoxically motivated by a quest to undermine its presence.

Her collages, installations and films reflect on the role of the photograph in consumer culture, forcefully confronting what she regards as its compromised and manipulative position within mainstream media, the cult of the celebrity and gender politics.

Photographic materials drawn from a variety of sources are re-photographed, torn, scrawled on and otherwise recontextualised, their integrity consistently called into question by Reid's refusal to allow them to exist without comment.


Perhaps inevitably, conventional modes of display are also reviewed, channelled into highly individual responses including 'tiles' of imagery (2009, above left) or cascading, wall-hung collages (2009, below).

contemporary photography, Clunie Reid
Images © Clunie Reid

Inverting the stealthy use of high-cost production and sophisticated image manipulation with an aggressively forthright punk aesthetic, Reid's assemblages instigate new readings - often quite literally - of mainstream photography.

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