Photo-Objects and "Applied Arts" in the Photothek


Objects of the applied arts are comprised among the earliest motifs of photography. In The Pencil of Nature (1844–46), the first book publication illustrated with photographs, its author William Henry Fox Talbot argued for the power of such photographs as objective evidence of the objects they reproduced. They could be used, for example, to supplement inventories in museums and collections, and might even stand up as judicial evidence in court. Even though the myth not only of the objective photograph but also of objectivity itself as a sacrosanct scientific quantity began to be deconstructed at an early date, the notion that the photograph is objective has survived into the 21st century. Research in more recent years has reacted to it by defining photographs as socially, culturally and politically translated material artefacts: it was the overcoming of the paradigm of objectivity that gave rise to the “photo-object”, namely, a photo that is simultaneously image and thing: it both illustrates the object and is an object in itself.
A series of recently discovered photographs from the “Wood” sub-section of “Applied Arts” in the Photothek reflects this many-layered discourse in an especially revealing way. They depict framed mirrors and in most cases come from the art market. Only on closer inspection, these photos reveal a projecting lens or the contours of a large studio camera on a tripod as reflected images. The rapid movements of the photographer may have evaded the camera due to its long exposure times but the photographer himself sometimes appears in blurred and phantom-like contour next to it. Occasional attempts to neutralize such a reflection by moving the object into a skewed position, or by retouching the negative, are unlikely to deceive us or mask the presence of the camera and the photographer. On the contrary: it is precisely these visible interventions that make them tangible. The “image-in-the-image” and the constant visual interplay between the various levels of materiality illustrate the self-reflexive capacity of the photograph and its historical as also material dimension.

Unidentified photographer, mirror, 18th century, albumin print, c. 1900, 18,1 x 14,1 cm (mounting board), inv. no. 612102 (sec. Kunstgewerbe Kuriositäten)

Unidentified photographer, mirror, mid-17th/18th century, albumin print, c. 1900, 19,3 x 14,4 cm (mounting board), Inv. Nr. 612104 (sec. Kunstgewerbe Edelmetall)

Unidentified photographer, mirror, c. 1730, silver-gelatin print, after 1890, 19,2 x 10,8 cm (photograph), inv. no. 200035 (sec. Kunstgewerbe Glas)

Unidentified photographer, mirror with medallion, 18th century, silver-gelatin print, after 1890, 23,2 x 11,5 cm (photograph), inv. no. 176151 (sec. Kunstgewerbe Holz)

Unidentified photographer, mirror, 19th century, albumin print, c. 1900, 21,7 x 13,1 cm (photograph), inv. no. 176306 (sec. Kunstgewerbe Holz)

Pietro Fiorentini, mirror, 19th century, silver-gelatin print, before 1968, 23,9 x 18,2 cm (photograph), inv. no. 232180 (sec. Kunstgewerbe Holz)

Unidentified photographer, mirror, 2nd half of the 18th century, albumin print, c. 1900, 27,2 x 15,1 cm (photograph), inv. no. 614519 (sec. Kunstgewerbe Holz)

Reale Fotografia Giacomelli, mirror, 18th century, silver-gelatin print, before 1932, 21,5 x 30,1 cm (photograph), inv. no. 81201, donation Adolph Loewi (sec. Kunstgewerbe Holz)

Unidentified photographer, mirror, 1st half of the 18th century, silver-gelatin print, before 1933, 22,1 x 11,8 cm (photograph), inv. no. 91678, donation Luigi Vittorio Fossati Bellani (sec. Kunstgewerbe Holz)

Paolo Bacherini, mirror, 18th century, digital print, 2003, 23,2 x 17,7 cm (photograph), neg. no. 38437, inv. no. 573110 (sec. Kunstgewerbe Holz)

Reali, mirror, 18th century, silver-gelatin print, before 1972, 26,2 x 17,4 cm (photograph), inv. no. 276168 (sec. Kunstgewerbe Holz)

Unidentified photographer, mirror frame, btw. 1720/1780, silver-gelatin print, before 1963, 17,2 x 9,8 cm (photograph), inv. no. 192780, donation Galleria Bellini (sec. Kunstgewerbe Holz)

© KHI in Florence | 25.01.2020 18:53:41