Fakes, body doubles, and mirrors from analog to digital lenses

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin denied that he used a body double. He said he had been offered one in the past but refused. We might accept the offer despite our anonymity. A real person could follow us around in our daily lives. They could keep us close while we go about our daily lives. They could answer emails, drive children, and cover for us while we were at work.

The Art Gallery of New South Wales has a major exhibit on body doubles. Isobel Park Philip curates Shadow Catchers and includes nearly 90 works of art from the collection. These include photography, video, sculpture, installations, and works by Australia’s best-known artists.

The use of mirrors, shadows, and body doubles characterizes the works. Many of these challenges are a straightforward understanding of photography.

The camera may lie.

Shadow Catchers shows how, since 1827, when the first photograph was taken, we have been able to capture the truth about ourselves and our world. We also know that it can be easily abused. In an era of fake news, we are increasingly skeptical about the authenticity of images.

Clarence H. White’s and Alfred Stieglitz’s 1907 work Experiment 27(lady with crystal ball) is one of the oldest pieces in the exhibit. It shows that images have performed a dual role for a long time, revealing as well as manipulating or hiding reality. The exhibition is filled with mirror images, distortions, and replicas. It also combines truth and fiction.

When I looked at the work of Patrick PoundJacky Redgate, and Debra Philips, I wondered if I was looking at the Earth, the Moon, a UFO, or a simple mirror.

Untitled (Denise & Diane twins) 2018. Emma Phillips/AGNSW

I was pulled into what I believed to be the home of a lesbian pair. Emma Phillips invited me to see the tenderness between the twins.

Works by Lewis Morley (known for his portraits of Christine Keeler) and Tracey Moffett reveal the self-splitting appeal of mirrors. French photographer Pierre Molinier is known for his erotic images of simple shop mannequins.

Ilse bing’s intimate self-portrait from 1931 illustrates a central curatorial premise. It replicates her dark beauty by staging two angled reflections in which she looks at us as well as away from us.

Eight imposing photos by Eugenia Rakopoulos are also highlighted. After a hot shower, the letters of the Greek alphabet were wiped on the mirror to activate its illusory qualities.

Self-portrait with Leica, Ilsa Bin (1931). Courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York/AGNSW

Grand scale

Merilyn Farskye’s large-scale portraits printed on plastic substrate emit a dark shadow that casts a light onto the wall and causes a gentle schism to appear in the faces of the subjects.

The exhibition’s centerpiece is Body Double, a work created by Julie Rrap. Since the early 1980s, the artist has explored the idea of the double through sculpture, photography, and video. On a stage are two silicon rubber casts, one facing up and the other down. The bodies are projected with a ghostly figure of either a man or woman. The projection of the bodies moves across the stage, from one figure to the next. It appears to revive the silicon forms.

Hand walk (2015) Ronnie van Hout

The four rooms of works combine historical and contemporary works, reminding us how the past always influences the present.

The exhibition is a critical and poetic account of our fascination with representation technologies.

The exhibition, while it is a successful return to the past of photography and the defiant contribution made by postmodern approaches to doubling, fails to ask questions about our present and future situation.

We are either too tired or too slow to notice the shadows that cover our world. We share our world today with millions of doubles, whether we like it or not.

Shadows and reflections are everywhere. They appear on our screens, in X-rays or MRIs, in dental molds, and in ultrasound images. The constant experience of being duplicated mediates our perception of ourselves. Bitmojis, digital avatars, and gaming skins are all body doubles in cyberspace. Instagram feeds, passport scanning, CCTV surveillance, and VR personas are also examples.

Some people believe we are living in a post-photographic era. This means that technology creates images for and with us and not just for us. These images may be worse or better than our mortal bodies and are mostly out of our control.

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