We Are Looking into It
Arts Illustrated|June - July 2020
Swiss-based artists Jojakim Cortis and Adrian Sonderegger talk to us about the evolving meaning and purpose of photography and the many perspectives it lends to history
Vani Sriranganayaki
When this lockdown started, my family went on a cleaning spree, which, by the way, is still ongoing. For days now, we’ve been pouring over boxes of old toys, baby clothes, books and countless, countless photographs, including a large unframed photograph, too big for albums, and carefully packed between mattresses. It was a self-portrait – my late grandfather’s. I discovered that he used to own a photo studio back in the 1940s, when only newly married couples and newborns got their photos taken in studios. I then learnt that this particular self-portrait, taken much later, was one of his life’s last works and that it was all the more special for a technique he had used: no matter where we put the photo, his eyes were always on us (the lasting legacy of a man famous for his rather ‘strict’ personality).

Of course, this opened up a litany of questions on his life as a photographer. But it also propped up new ones on the limits of history and time; and the image’s capacity to turn them back and produce new meaning, metaphors and realisations. It was in this mind space that I came across the works of Jojakim Cortis and Adrian Sonderegger – Swiss-based artists best known for their photographs of physically recreated iconic photographs. From the moon landing to the mushroom cloud over Nagasaki to the 9/11 tragedy and the 2004 Tsunami, memorable moments in history come alive in 3D within the confines of their studio. But like mirrors within mirrors, their photographs came with a special perspective where viewers somehow became part of that moment in time. There is a sense of theatricality when viewers notice the other elements in the image and are suddenly included in the ‘making of ’ the image and its historic significance. ‘We think the audience always find their own meanings. For us, it is not interesting to just copy the iconic photographs because we would also just be copying the meaning of the original photograph. The original meaning of the image is not that important to our work. It is more about photography itself and how you read it. And if you can trust it without questioning it. So, every tool or material you see in the surrounding is used to set up the scene in the inner part of the image. It is also about perception itself: our images are, kind of, like optical illusions. You see with your eyes, but you perceive with your brain. Your eyes say it is true, but your brain says it is not. Your eyes start swopping between illusion and delusion,’ they said over an e-mail conversation, where we spoke about their rather unique approach to history, photography and the defining moments that shape them all.

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We Are Looking into It

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