Photography is now eclipsing almost everything. Thanks largely to social media sites Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, if an event has not been photographed, it hasn’t been documented and it never really happened. Now seems like a fitting time then, for Gagosian to be showing the sculptural masterpieces of Alberto Giacometti in photographic form, which are displayed alongside Peter Lindbergh’s photographs of the works.
Gagosian is currently displaying Giacometti’s spindly, elongated figures in front of huge photographic prints. Lindbergh’s photographs of the sculptures were taken in 2016 at the Kunsthaus Zurich, fifty years after Giacometti’s death. Fifty years is a long time, half a century in fact, meaning that, in many ways, Lindbergh is far removed from Giacometti. And, while Lindbergh is a photographer by trade, and photography is an art form in its own right, Lindbergh is principally involved in fashion. Despite the pairing of Giacometti and Lindbergh seeming somewhat peculiar, together, the pair have made a dynamic duo, even though they have never, and will never meet, at least not in the world of the living.
What is most startling about Lindbergh’s images is just how much bigger they are than Giacometti’s sculptures. The three-dimensional figures stand motionless in front of their photographic portraits that are probably at least ten times the size of each statue. Giacometti’s cast bronze figures, that were first moulded in plaster appear as a silent façade: static, poker-faced, and unaware of their hidden secrets being revealed behind their backs. Lindbergh’s images however appear full of life. One may argue that all the life that may have once been present in Giacometti’s works have been sucked out of them by Lindbergh’s camera and injected into his gargantuan black and white prints.
Where Giacometti stretches, Lindbergh enlarges, highlighting parts of the sculptures one might miss on first looking. He has been quoted as saying: ‘Sometimes I show a photograph to somebody and they go, “That’s him! You’ve captured him!” I say that’s impossible. How can anyone do that? He is so complex this person, and tomorrow he will be a completely different person.’ Therefore explaining how he has been able to disclose aspects of Giacometti’s figures that had hitherto been masked.
Lindbergh doesn’t take his photographs straight on. Many images are taken at an angle and sometimes he focuses his lens on one particular part of the body, leaving the visage out of the portrait altogether. Buste de Diego, 1964-5 is particularly striking. The portrait is taken at an angle and shows the subject’s face covered in black lines. Maybe they are wrinkles, maybe they are signs of stress or maybe he is in pain.
The camera’s obsession with light shines life into the sculptures that appear more like static cartoons that have been paused for a moment, even though it is clear that Giacometti’s sculptures aren’t going anywhere. While Giacometti’s elegiac figures are stretched to their very ends, thin and in pain; in photographic form they are anything but dead. The camera brings heat, reflecting off the hollows found in the stone-cold sculptures and ignites life.
The female images are noteworthy as they make up a small section of the exhibition, but are probably the most memorable. In Femme debout, Lindbergh concentrates on the statue’s breasts. While in Femme debout (Poseuse I), he allows us to see the whole of her abdomen too, as well as her neck and the top of her legs, though her arms have been cut off. In these works, one gets the sense that Lindbergh is trying to display a multifaceted woman, probably a mother, whose body is tired and is likely to be old and aged.
Lindbergh has also taken a series of group photographs, however, they do not have as much impact as his single figure images. The photographs of multiple sculptures seem to lose their intensity, whereas the amplified portraits have a great sense of depth, particularly with their corresponding sculptures standing silently in front of them. Together the photograph and the bronze sculptures become a pair and it is hard to imagine one without the other.
Peter Lindbergh’s photographs of Alberto Giacometti’s sculptures have augmented their appeal. Giacometti’s figures, that have always had a powerful impact have now, through photography, become even more captivating, fleshed out with a new air of mystery.
Peter Lindbergh and Alberto Giacometti: Substance and Shadow is on display at Gagosian, Britannia Street until 22nd July