A Photograph as a 3 Dimensional Object

What is a photograph? On one level it is a window to another world - you look at it and you are looking at a loved one, a beautiful beach or a sports car. It is a flat picture that takes you somewhere else.

We all have images of people we love and we might keep them in a draw, on the wall or in our wallets. Over the years the photographs may get torn, folded, scratched and stuck back together. 

Photographs are not just flat images (illusions of things in the real world) - they are three dimensional objects in there own right.

A Daguerreotype in a decorative case 19th Century

Early photographs (see the Daguerreotype above) were often placed in decorative cases and sometimes included a lock of hair. This turned the photograph into an actual object.

Traditional photographs are printed on flat pieces of paper. A piece of paper can be folded into many shapes and stuck to other pieces to create three dimensional forms. There is no real reason a photograph has to be square - it could take any shape. 

Photographers and artists have taken advantage of this to create work that is somewhere between photography, art and sculpture.

Szymon Roginski

These works are by Szymon Roginski who said these works were inspired by Cubism. The cubist painters wanted to show the world from multiple view points and here Roginski has tried to achieve this through photography. Roginski produced these works for the fashion designer Ania Kuczynska and began with a series of photo-shoots. The images were then printed, constructed into geometric shapes and assembled back together to create the original image. The photo-sculpture was then re-photographed to create the final piece.
Naum Gabo 'Head No.2' 1916

Naum Gabo's  sculptures were not constructed from photographs, however, his approached to sculpture has a direct relevance to any artist who constructs sculptures from flat materials. Traditionally sculpture is carved from stone or wood, cast in bronze or molded from clay. Gabo pioneer the use of unusual manmade materials - glass, metal, plastics - and then constructed his pieces from smaller elements. From his constructivist work in Russia to his later work in st Ives (see The Art of Cornwall here) Gabo was key figure from twentieth century art.

Kurt Schwitter was an early twentieth century artist who was a pioneer of collage. These photographs above were taken of 'Merzblau'  Schwitters. From 1923 Scwitters began work on what he regarded to be his life's work. In his home he began to place collages on the walls, eventually adding and expanding them all over his home. He gradually connected them with string, wire, wood and plaster. His home eventually became a 'Merzblau' (a Merz Building) - both his home and a giant three dimensional sculpture/installation. The flat angles from his collages became sculptural forms, wall became distorted planes like a german expressionist stage set. As with many key German artists Schwitters fled to escape the Nazis' in 1937. Never one to be put off by the tyranny of fascism Schwitters built more Merzblau in Norway (1937 -1940) and Cumbria, England (Merz Barn 1947). 

At first Thomas Demands images seem dull and everyday - a messy office, a kitchen table or a sink full of pots. All of his images are constructed and based on images he fines in text books, magazines and periodicals (usually buildings and interiors). Using these images as his basis he constructs meticulous models of the chosen scenarios in his studio. Look again at his photographs and you can just about tell that the material he has used is paper and card - like elaborate origami. He then carefully lights the models and photographs them using a large format camera. There always seems to be something 'wrong' with Demand's images and it is this tension between the real and the fake which exists in all photographs.

Demand approaches the relationship between photography and sculpture from a different angle. He photographs the sculptures he makes - but his final work is the photograph.

Korean Gwon Osang uses hundred of photographs to create his three dimensional joiner sculptures. Like Demand and Roginski he blurs the line between the flat photographic image and sculpture.

Marilene Oliver
Marilene Oliver 'Family Portrait' 2003

Marilene Oliver creates ghostly images by using an unusual technique -

'Family Portrait is a series of sculptures of each of my family members – my father, my mother, my sister and myself. Each sculpture is a stack of 90 sheets of clear acrylic onto which an MRI scan has been silk screen printed. The scans when printed and stacked in correct order give the illusion of a ghostly figure, which appears and disappears depending on your view point.'

These images are three dimensional photographs shown as sculpture and when seen in gallery space they appear and re-appear as you move around them.

Angela Palmer's work is similar to Marilene Oliver's in that it creates a three dimensional image from built up layers. Palmer's images are connected to anatomical drawings and are reminiscent of Leonardo Da Vinci's sketches. 

This three dimensional greeting card creates a similar effect in a simpler way.

Thomas Allen has taken an old pulp fiction book and cut into the front cover - creating a three dimensional image. These mini sculptures are then rephotographed from a particular angle for added drama. In this above image one man punches another who then falls backwards. It has all the drama of a pulp novel or film noir. Allen has used a minimum depth of field to blur out the punching man and draw our eyes to the falling man. Are these works book art, sculpture or photography?
'Thomas Allen, in essence, is a still life artist who through a very creative process disrupts the stillness. By carefully selecting from primarily vintage paperback novels and science journals, he brings two-dimensional images forward into three dimensional space. With simple lightning and the use of simple tools (i.e., scissors and razor-sharp knives), figures are cut out, bent and juxtapose in ways that present the tension and dynamics of staged drama. Other techniques are applied in achieving a pure sense of humor that also defy the original use of these materials and their ultimate destiny of being read once and retiring for eternity on the nearest bookshelf.'
Patrick Highes
Christian Boltanski, 'Réliquaire' 1990
Christian Boltanski 'A reserva dos suiços mortos' 1991
Peter Blake - The Toy Shop  1962

Blake was interested in a wide range of cultural forms, from high art to pop music and children’s toys. Like many young ‘Pop’ artists of the time he was fascinated by American popular culture, such as denim jeans and the music of Elvis, which arrived in Britain in the late 1950s.
Alongside this, Blake retained a strong interest in English popular culture. His work suggests a sense of nostalgia for the paraphernalia of his childhood. Blake collected old toys and related imagery; this piece developed as both a work of art and a store for his collection of objects.