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8 - The Photo-Filmic Diorama

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 June 2021

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Summary

Abstract

The chapter focuses on a particular type of tableau construction in which the image is built like a glass case display, encapsulating an entire world of its own, combining 2D and 3D effects. With examples ranging from Jeff Wall's light boxes, Gregory Crewdson's and Hiroshi Sugimoto's cinematic photographs, to a case study of Gustav Deutsch's film/installation Shirley: Visions of Reality (2013), the chapter traces the inflections of such a photofilmic diorama as a versatile “cubicle aesthetic” which reconfigures the traditional dynamic of “absorption and theatricality” (Michael Fried) of the tableau form and reveals the imbrication of different art practices. The diverging features of such a dioramic tableau in photography and film are interpreted in terms of intermediality and defamiliarization.

Keywords: Diorama in contemporary art, intermediality, tableau vivant, cinematic photography, photofilmic image, defamiliarization

In an exhibition dedicated to the rediscovery of the versatile forms of dioramas and their influence on contemporary art organized in the summer of 2017 at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, among the encyclopaedic collection of artworks on display was a photograph composed by the Mexican artist Dulce Pinzón entitled Nostalgia (in fact, a piece from her Historias del Paraíso series, made in 2011–2012). In this picture, also reproduced in the poster of the exhibition, there is a young couple, dressed in the style of the 1950s, kissing in front of a painted canvas background showing a mountainous landscape, which blends in seamlessly with the rocks and dirt under the couple's feet (Figure 25). The whole scene, appearing as a museum display, is being ‘watched’ by taxidermied deer standing in the foreground. With the figures of the embracing couple appearing in the middle of a luminous screen and the deer standing in the shadows as the audience, the whole set-up resembles looking at a cinema screen or being in a theatrical or fairground setting with a revolving stage. Moreover, the spotlight directed at the image may also evoke the technique of Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre's diorama theatre, the nineteenth-century invention that preceded cinema and photography, in which people sitting in pitch darkness could marvel at large semi-transparent paintings, superimposed and lit alternately from the front and back, revealing different portions and layers of the images, and thus producing the illusion of movement, or transition from day to night.

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Chapter
Information
Theorizing Film Through Contemporary Art
Expanding Cinema
, pp. 175 - 194
Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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