Friday, May 15, 2009

The narrative as fiction - 2

Zoe at 3:57 pm, Rockridge, April 2008.

The staged photograph, which became the most popular genre of art photography in the 1990s, uses the power of the single image to tell a story. While the genre draws inspiration from many sources (movies, theater, painting, mythology, fashion), the spirit of mid-century snapshot photography looms large in these meticulously crafted tableaus, especially in the work of Philip-Lorca diCorcia.

diCorcia's 1978 portrait of his brother, Mario, looks like a candid snapshot, but every element in the mise-en-scène was carefully arranged: the flash hidden inside the refrigerator, the louvered doors that serve as a proscenium to the event taking place, the suggestion of twilight outside the kitchen. The result is an image of utter ordinariness that reveals its studied formality only upon closer inspection.

In the series "Heads," diCorcia combines staging and traditional street photography to create something akin to a performance. In his street pictures, diCorcia activates strategically hidden strobe lights as pedestrians walk by, giving these spontaneous moments the look and feel of a theatrical scene. In his hands, Doisneau's street theater metaphor becomes literal and controversial.

"Hollywood" is a portrait series of men from in and around Santa Monica Blvd. that diCorcia solicited to be photographed. In each of the picture captions, diCorcia lists the man's name, age, birthplace, and the amount of money that he paid him. The narrative implies that the men are street hustlers, and that the amount stated may or may not be the price that they charge for sexual favors. Whether or not these men are prostitutes, the narrative itself is entirely fictitious; every tableau was carefully staged beforehand and the "actor" was found in the street, paid, and dropped into the scene.

In "Cuba Libra," a fashion editorial that diCorcia shot for W Magazine, the fictional narrative possesses the mood and melodrama of cinema, where solitary fashion models are posed against scenarios -- real or staged we cannot tell -- of ordinary street life.

Mario, 1978.
Head No. 13, New York City, 2000.
New York, 1993.
New York, 1993.
Eddie Anderson; 21 years old; Houston, Texas; $20.
André Smith; 28 years old; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; $30.
Cuba Libre,
W, March 2000.

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