Informing contexts, week 3 – constructed realities

Although one may argue that all photographs are constructions (depending as they do on choice of lens, vantage point, depth of field etc.), the deliberate distortion or – depending on one’s point of view – enhancement of reality is particularly evident in in the work of the many photographers who seek to use the medium of their art for symbolic  or narrative purposes or in support of a teleological argument.

I propose to illustrate the “constructed” approach with three images from well-known photographers.

The first image is from Peter Lindbergh’s cycle “Invasion” for Italian Vogue magazine in 1990 in which he depicts Helena Christensen walking through a post-apocalyptic landscape in the company of space-suited children, presumably intended to be extra-terrestrials. I was fortunate to see a number of images in this cycle four years ago in Zagreb at Lindbergh’s exhibition “Images of Women and the Unknown”:


The elaborately constructed imagery in the “Invasion” cycle is clearly intended to disturb the magazine’s readers through their emphasis on female vulnerability, the ravaged cities and countryside and the representation of children as sinister, calculated and controlling.

The next image I have chosen is “Dalí Atomicus (1948) where Philippe Halsman’s surrealistic approach is entirely suited to his subject, the painter Salvador Dalí and his work “Leda Atomica”.


According to the online project “100 Photographs, The Most Influential Images of All Time” curated by TIME magazine:

“Halsman created an elaborate scene to surround the artist that included the original work, a floating chair and an in-progress easel suspended by thin wires. Assistants, including Halsman’s wife and young daughter Irene, stood out of the frame and, on the photographer’s count, threw three cats and a bucket of water into the air while Dalí leaped up. It took the assembled cast 26 takes to capture a composition that satisfied Halsman.”

The third image is Andreas Gursky’s “Bahrain 1”.

Bahrain I 2005 by Andreas Gursky born 1955

In contrast to the preceding photographs, Gursky’s constructed realities (at least in his later work) depend on digital manipulation, generally of multiple images which he then combines to produce a single large image. Gursky does not shrink from fundamentally altering reality as in the image above, where the Bahrain motor circuit is deconstructed and reshaped, but perhaps most famously in  “Rhein 2” where he has removed all signs of human intrusion (including a power station) from his image of Germany’s largest river.

In terms of my own practice as a photographer, I seek to record landscapes as an unconstructed reality, but in a way which I hope is aesthetically pleasing and evocative of the places they depict. In particular, I apply the minimum of post-processing and avoid any digital alteration of the scene I have captured.

However, as I stated at the beginning of this post, the choices made at the time of capture will fundamentally affect the outcome of my endeavours. This can be illustrated by comparing the image of  Zabriskie Point  below with the  image of the same scene taken with a narrower angle lens in my previous post:
















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