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My wife laughs at my penchant for taking photographs of sculpture when we travel. It’s as if I’m trying to bring these huge stone and marble marvels home with me. In The Original Copy: Photography of Sculpture, 1839 to Today at the MoMA through November 1, 2010, that same “take it home” impulse is examined from the very beginnings of photography to today. More than 100 artists—including some of the biggest names from the worlds of photography and sculpture—appear in more than 300 photographs, magazines, and journals. Together, they build a bigger picture showing just how the new medium of photography changed how we looked at the old medium of sculpture forever.

“In his 1947 book Le Musée Imaginaire,” says Roxana Marcoci, the show’s curator from the MoMA’s Department of Photography, “the novelist and politician André Malraux famously advocated for a pancultural ‘museum without walls,’ postulating that art history, and the history of sculpture in particular, had become ‘the history of that which can be photographed.’” Taking her cue from Malraux, Marcoci creates a new museum without walls through the photography of the world of sculpture. The Original Copy begins with “Sculpture in the Age of Photography,” which includes early photographs by Charles Nègre of sculptures in French cathedrals and by Roger Fenton of sculpture in the British Museum. Those pioneers were soon joined by the first “star” photographer of sculpture—Eugène Atget. While photographing Paris in the first decades of the twentieth century, Atget couldn’t help but capture some of its decorative sculpture in the background and assemble a visual catalogue of the city’s statues, reliefs, and fountains. For those who could not see Paris in person (or today cannot see the Paris of the past, two world wars ago), Atget’s photography brought it to them, framed within his own artistic vision.

The focus of the exhibition then shifts to specific sculptors—Auguste Rodin, Constantin Brancusi, and Marcel Duchamp. Rodin cooperated with photographer Edward Steichen in 1902 to create a new kind of portrait in Rodin—The Thinker, in which Steichen combined an image of Rodin in profile with another of Rodin’s own Monument to Victor Hugo. Brancusi allowed Steichen and others to photograph his studio as a symbol of the same flux found in his sculptures. Brancusi later took his own photos—photos radieuses or “radiant photos”— flashes of light that become frozen sculptures on film.

Duchamp, ever the innovator, pushed the relationship of photography and sculpture by “authorizing” “original” copies of his works. Thus, the already blossoming relationship between photography and sculpture got the Duchamp treatment of postmodern analysis early in the game.

Everything in the exhibition after Duchamp reeks of this postmodern perfume. Works by American photographers Walker Evans, Robert Frank, and Lee Friedlander of the American cultural landscape become photographs of the “sculpture” of our culture itself and question the validity, if not the sanity, of our society. In a section titled “The Pygmalion Complex,” photographs of art by Man Ray, Hannah Hoch, and others blurs the line between the human body and sculpture through photography. Bruce Nauman and other modern artists close out the show in a section titled “The Performing Body as Sculptural Object,” which takes the Pygmallion idea to its logical conclusion. Nauman’s Self-Portrait as a Fountain from the portfolio Eleven Color Photographs (shown above) caps off the show beautifully by summing up the ideas of sculpture, photography, and self all in one bubbly package.

The Original Copy: Photography of Sculpture, 1839 to Today takes interdisciplinary studies to a whole new level, as if the two disciplines were actually one all along—and you begin to wonder if they’re not by the end. So many artists and so many ideas fly by that your head spins at times, but that’s the beauty of the project. As Brancusi hoped, still photography of still sculptures can result in a whirlwind of motion in the human imagination. The Original Copy reaps that whirlwind, but in a good way.

The above from,


T H E   O R I G I N A L   C O P Y


The story of the breath of life in a statue has parallels in the examples of Daedalus, who used quicksilver to install a voice in his statues; of Hephaestus, who created automata for his workshop; of Talos, an artificial man of bronze; and, according to Hesiod, Pandora, who was made from clay at the behest of Zeus.

The moral anecdote of the "Apega of Nabis", recounted by the historian Polybius, described a supposed mechanical simulacrum of the tyrant's wife, that crushed victims in her embrace.

The discovery of the Antikythera mechanism suggests that such rumoured animated statues had some grounding in contemporary mechanical technology. The island of Rhodes was particularly known for its displays of mechanical engineering and automata – Pindar, one of the nine lyric poets of ancient Greece, said this of Rhodes in his seventh Olympic Ode:

"The animated figures stand

   Adorning every public street

   And seem to breathe in stone, or

   move their marble feet."

The trope of a sculpture so lifelike it seemed about to move was a commonplace with writers on works of art in Antiquity that was inherited by writers on art after the Renaissance.

The basic Pygmalion story has been widely transmitted and re-presented in the arts through the centuries. At an unknown date, later authors give as the name of the statue that of the sea-nymph Galatea or Galathea. Goethe calls her Elise, based upon the variants in the story of Dido/Elissa.

In the Middle Ages Pygmalion was held up as an example of the excesses of idolatry, probably spurred by Clement of Alexandria's suggestion that Pygmalion had carved an image of Aphrodite herself. However, by the 18th century it was a highly influential love-story, seen as such in Rousseau's musical play of the story. By the 19th century, the story often becomes one in which the awakened beloved rejects Pygmalion; although she comes alive, she is initially cold and unattainable.

A variant of this theme can also be seen in the story of Pinocchio, in which a wooden puppet is transformed into a real boy, though in this case the puppet possesses sentience prior to its transformation; it is the puppet and not its creator, the woodcarver Mister Geppetto, who beseeches the miracle.

William Shakespeare, in the final scene of The Winter's Tale (c1611), presents what appears to be a tomb effigy of Hermione that is revealed as Hermione herself, bringing the play to a conclusion of reconciliations.

In George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion, a modern variant of the myth with a subtle hint of feminism, the underclass flower-girl Eliza Doolittle is metaphorically "brought to life" by a phonetics professor, Henry Higgins, who teaches her to refine her accent and conversation in social situations.

This from Wikipaedia.



People's desire to animate sculpture is quite commonplace. In Ireland, to this day, statues  frequently  move in some subtle fashion and often draw audiences of many thousands to see this movement. These forms of animation were commonplace in the mediaeval period and we still take great pleasure in our town centres when those out of work actors, who stand immobile for long periods caked in silver make up to look statuesque, suddenly move. We wonder initially at their stillness and we delight in their sudden animations.

I have often seen grown-ups as well as children pat those lifelike statues of guide dogs outside shops and the guardians of our major galleries will tell you that the public, despite being told not to touch, will invariably reach out and lay hands upon any statuary they take a fancy to.

The Latin word animus means soul and we do so like to think that the frozen people or animals our sculptors make for us have in some way life within.

It is a great moment in Mozart's "Don Giovanni"  when the statue of the Don comes to life and drags Don Giovanni off to hell. However it is not these spectacular coups du theatre that I'm interested in rather it is in the way humankind appears to relate to statuary or sculpture.

If we look at Steichen's portrait of the sculptor Rodin's image of Balzac we see that Steichen wants to animate the figure by creating a theatrical background and using a camera angle which exalts his dramatic height.

Many sculptors prefer their work to be sited within the natural world.  Henry Moore was most particular as to which part of the landscape was best suited to his work.

In Dublin sculpture of the Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh is seated on an ordinary Dublin Corporation bench rather than high on a plinth. People love to be photographed with him and many people appear to engage him in conversation.

Figurative sculpture is like us and, it would seem, we are hardwired to engage with the stuff just because it is like us.

Below you will find some examples of this phenomenon in action.

Man, as Vetruvius told us is,  the measure of all things so the relationship between our human size and their sometimes larger than human size is never unimportant. That they are sometimes even smaller than us we find just as charming.

Scale too, it seems, also fascinates humankind.




Interactions and animations at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Dublin City and The Ashmolean, Oxford.

Pictures by the candidate or his wife,


These images taken in the Ashmolean by my wife Kate illustrate brilliantly the interactions possible in the juxtaposition of sculpture of all scales with actual humanity.

Here, what is thought to be a statue of Socrates, looks down on the candidate as he fiddles with his 21st century apparatus.Vast eras seem to separate the two yet their humanity links them for we feel for the statue’s loss of a leg and the inattention of the candidate preoccupied with his video camera unaware of the mortality that links them. This or other narratives are easily projected into/onto this image; could it even be that it is impossible not to project such narratives when we encounter such forms of our likeness?

Here a living balding man finds himself in the presence of seven statuesque heads;  he looks away from them towards the nude statue top right.All the heads, save one, look steadfastly in other directions.We do not see the facial expressions of the two who look towards the woman. It is a human puzzle and a statement about our humanity and our mortality whatever narrative we choose to project

Projection has been taken up avidly by Psychology and assigned dangerous qualities by both Jung and Freud. I am more interested in “the tricks of strong imagination” that Shakespeare speaks of

Such tricks hath strong imagination,

That if it would but apprehend some joy,

It comprehends some bringer of that joy.

Or in the night, imagining some fear,

How easy is a bush supposed a bear!

I append below a psychological test which could well use any or all of the above images on its subjects

The Thematic Apperception Test, or TAT

The TAT is popularly known as the picture interpretation technique because it uses a standard series of provocative yet ambiguous pictures about which the subject is asked to tell a story.

The subject is asked to tell as dramatic a story as they can for each picture presented, including the following:

   what has led up to the event shown

   what is happening at the moment

   what the characters are feeling and thinking

   what the outcome of the story was

If these elements are omitted, particularly for children or individuals of low cognitive abilities, the evaluator may ask the subject about them directly.

Anthropomorphic is any attribution of human characteristics (or characteristics assumed to belong only to humans) to animals, non-living things, phenomena, material states, objects or abstract concepts, such as organizations, governments, spirits or deities.

The term was coined in the mid 1700s. Examples include animals and plants and forces of nature such as winds, rain or the sun depicted as creatures with human motivations, and/or the abilities to reason and converse. The term derives from the combination of the Greek ἄνθρωπος (ánthrōpos), "human" and μορφή (morphē), "shape" or "form".

As a literary device, anthropomorphism is strongly associated with art and storytelling where it has ancient roots. Most cultures possess a long-standing fable tradition with anthropomorphised animals as characters that can stand as commonly recognised types of human behaviour.

Claes Oldenburg's soft sculptures are commonly described as anthropomorphic. Depicting common household objects, Oldenburg's sculptures were considered Pop Art. Reproducing these objects, often at a greater size than the original, Oldenburg created his sculptures out of soft materials. The anthropomorphic qualities of the sculptures were mainly in their sagging and malleable exterior which mirrored the not so idealistic forms of the human body. In "Soft Light Switches" Oldenburg creates a household light switch out of Vinyl. The two identical switches, in a dulled orange, insinuate nipples. The soft vinyl references the aging process as the sculpture wrinkles and sinks with time.

This from Wilipaedia


If soft switches (above) can be deemed anthropomorphic how much more so are “lifelike” or figurative sculpture to be perceived as really having human qualities. There is no doubt looking at the pictures below that visitors to Anthony Gormley’s sculptures at Crosby take an anthropmorphic stance.

The names of the photographers were impossible to source.

These smaller images were taken from the work of very occasional bloggers and their text material all suggest a desire to care for these tin men,to find hats for them and often to give them a cuddle.

They are spoken of as if they had feelings and everyone found it easy to feel for their cold on the edge of a bleak sea.

It is this sense of empathy that I hope to capture in my “animation” of Elizabeth Frink’s work in The Yorkshire Sculpture Park




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