Every realm has its icons; guiding stars, which reflect the spirit of their times in form, media and content, and summing up an overall history. So does photography.
An 1827 private glimpse on Nicéphore Niépce’s backyard in Chalon-sur-Saône in Burgundy and an impotent spectator’s perspective of the burning Twin Towers in New York are set apart by 175 years. One icon is the result of a long scholarly research for the original, for the mythical fountain of photography, whereas the other – picture of 9/11 – is a beacon signaling a clash of cultures, a destruction of a myth that outbid every possible cinematic fiction. Both photographs – as well as the others: the Wright Brothers and their first powered flight in 1903 in Kitty Hawk, the calamitous march of the British in 1916 near Ypres, the single-handed resistance against the regime on Tiananmen Square in 1989 in Beijing, the end of civil supersonic flight with the crash of the Concorde in Paris in 2000 – are reference images, which allow us to examine history or question its authenticity. After 2001, the medium of photography has lost a lot of authenticity due to its digital, freely changeable nature. The notion of photography as ‘trustworthy’ has become weaker than ever before, since reality can be fabricated as well, even twice: see Loch Ness.
Exactly because the iconic power of reference images is sacrosanct, they are well suited for parody. Cortis & Sonderegger expand photographically reduced scenes again into three-dimensional studio sets. It is a mischievous construction of deconstruction. Subsequently, the model is again reduced to the photographic surface, a reproduced reality of the second order. Although the visual trace leads back to a locatable past, this renewed (photographic) reality is simultaneously battling its dwindling memory and becomes a mere artifact, without any relation to the original whatsoever. World history becomes a playground, framed by studio props, tools and archives. It is exactly this cynical reduction of the story to its small-scale version that proves that the world history was not exactly the way we perceive it, even if we look at it from afar and through icons.
Fritz Franz Vogel