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Artist Uses 150-Year-Old Photography Technique to Create These Chilling Images

Victorian pictures of corpses and pale nudes mingle with contemporary images made with the photography precursor.
December 5, 2016, 3:00pm
Adam Fuss, Home and the World, 2011, Daguerreotype, 59.7 x 96.5 cm, Photo courtesy of Cheim & Read, New York

In an ode to antique image capture, two black snakes squirm and crawl over a bare mattress, a deceased baby lies peacefully in her cradle, and a nude wind-swept woman seems straight out of a raunchy Victorian photography collection. Hosted by gallery Hans P. Kraus Jr.Adam Fuss Daguerreotypes & The Womb of the Pre-Raphaelite Imagination is a photography exhibition where the unseen becomes the seen.

Displaying a combination of contemporary and 19th-century photographs, the exhibition transcends time with an amalgamation of puzzling images. Exhibited is the work of contemporary photographer Adam Fuss, whose images capture the archetypal and universal themes of fear, desire, and hope that saturate human existence. Prefacing Fuss’s work is a selection of 19th-century nudes and post-mortem images from Victorian photographers. By channeling the universal themes of life and death, Adam Fuss Daguerreotypes & The Womb of the Pre-Raphaelite Imagination explores the metaphysical side of mortality, where inherent and timeless symbolism is captured by early photographic techniques.

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Félix-Jacques Antoine Moulin (French,1802-after 1875), Reclining female nude reflected in a mirror, 1851-1853, image courtesy of Hans P. Kraus Jr. Fine Photographs

Fuss uses the camera-free method of a daguerreotype, a pre-photographic technique developed in the 19th century. The invention of the daguerreotype was monumental, generating a new way society responded to and perceived visual information. Additionally, the 19th century saw the themes of love and death being associated with early photographic images which are mirrored in Fuss’s work.

Using the daguerreotype to seize ghostly manifestations of light and dark that harbour in each pictorial background, Fuss uses a bed as a recurring prop—reflecting sex, death, childbirth, and sleep. The use of the daguerreotype creates timeless, enigmatic photographs as the combinations of chemistry and light result in virtually three-dimensional images where human flesh and serpent scales become almost touchable. Fuss does not see his photographic process as predominantly 19th century, rather, a neutral artistic process that can establish perplexing imagery. As he tells The Creators Project, “I don't see the 19th century processes as 19th century, I see them more as historically neutral as their use in the 19th century was based on commercial issues. If you remove that aspect they are just really processes and are really interesting for their print and artistic possibilities.”

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Unknown American Photographer, Postmortem, girl with pink flowers, 1850s. Hand tinted sixth plate daguerreotype, image of courtesy Hans P. Kraus Jr. Fine Photographs

Investigating the dualistic aspect of the ancient symbol of the snake, Fuss examines the reptile's negative incarnation in Snakes and Ladders, a favorite game of his childhood. Although the reptile is historically associated with the story of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden, the serpent is also associated with healing and in some cultures a potent deity. A creature which sheds its skin continuously throughout its lifespan, Fuss uses the animal’s symbolism as a metaphor to represent the continuous renewal of life, examining rebirth, transformation and immortality. “It seems like the snake is behind or just below the surface. Or even present but invisible…perhaps in these works it is given form,” Fuss explains.

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Adam Fuss (b. 1961), Home and the World, 2010, Daguerreotype, 59.7 x 96.5 cm, Photo courtesy of Cheim & Read, New York

To learn more about Adam Fuss Daguerreotypes & The Womb of the Pre-Raphaelite Imagination, click here.


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