WEEK 7: Documents

Sophie Calle,  Exquisite Pain, 38 days ago  (1984–2003)

Sophie Calle, Exquisite Pain, 38 days ago (1984–2003)


DISCUSSION: How else can a likeness be constructed photographically? We will discuss the conceptual portraiture of artist Sophie Calle to unpack the use of the “document” as an equivalency for a portrait. Students will be asked to discuss potential creative uses of documents in context of the photographs they have created thus far, and how this might change/elevate/alter the way a viewer interacts with images.

STUDIO ASSIGNMENT: Students will photograph, scan, and interpret the documents they have brought in to class with their previously made photographs (as diptychs, didactics, collage, etc.). Examples of these will be shown in class and discussed.

ASSIGNMENT: As in class, students will be asked to interpret a series of documents either representative of themselves or someone else (as a portrait) and interpret these photographically, pairing documents with portraits. (8 images total)

Sophie Calle,  What do you see ? A Lady and Gentleman in Black. Rembrandt , (2013). Colour photograph, text, frames.

Sophie Calle, What do you see ? A Lady and Gentleman in Black. Rembrandt, (2013). Colour photograph, text, frames.

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Defining “Readymade” from Tate Museum


The theory behind the readymade was explained in an anonymous editorial published in the May 1917 issue of avant-garde magazine The Blind Man run by Duchamp and two friends:

Whether Mr Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an ordinary article of life, and placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view – created a new thought for that object.

There are three important points here: first, that the choice of object is itself a creative act. Secondly, that by cancelling the ‘useful’ function of an object it becomes art. Thirdly, that the presentation and addition of a title to the object have given it ‘a new thought’, a new meaning. Duchamp’s readymades also asserted the principle that what is art is defined by the artist. Choosing the object is itself a creative act, cancelling out the useful function of the object makes it art, and its presentation in the gallery gives it a new meaning. This move from artist-as-maker to artist-as-chooser is often seen as the beginning of the movement to conceptual art, as the status of the artist and the object are called into question. At the time, the readymade was seen as an assault on the conventional understanding not only of the status of art but its very nature.

Conversations: Text and Image, The Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College


“Placing words and images in the same perceptual space is not as easy as it looks. The artist has to keep track of four phenomena, not just the apparent two. First, the words have accepted, coded meanings and contexts that affect what we see in the adjacent images. Second, the words invoke mental images that might also conflict with what we see. Third, images have meanings and contexts that may alter our engagement with the adjacent words. Fourth, images can call up words in the mind of the viewer. The coordination of image/word/word/image is not easy, but the more difficult it is, the more possibilities present themselves for qualifying or clarifying the larger world.”


How can a portrait be constructed photographically? Is this a likeness, or something else?