The intention of Illustrated Bodies is to explore the art and practice of 19th century medical illustrations and portrait paintings in creating contrasting, yet simultaneously occurring, representations of the human body. The photographer’s interest originates in exploring the intriguing problematic of objectively representing the ailments of human physicality and subjectively portraying ideal and perfect physical bodies.
This project in particular has two major sources of inspiration and information, of which 19th century medical illustrations is perhaps the most important one. While the art of medical illustrations was a long tradition stemming from far back in history, it flourished during the 1800s in an environment of scientific curiosity and medical necessity. Medical illustrations were achieved through collaborative work and were produced by doctors, surgeons, artists and craftsmen. By researching medical illustrations and descriptions of illnesses and diseases commonly occurring during the 1800s (such as syphilis, cholera, typhus, smallpox and yellow fever) that had external visual manifestations and symptoms, the photographer gained an understanding of how these affections affected multiple areas. The 19th century was certainly a century of innovation in terms of health care too, in addition to everything else.
The second part the work finds its basis in the art of 19th century portrait painting. Building on the practices and techniques of preceding painters, masters of the 1800 such as Henri Toulouse-Lautreu, Edgar Degas, Akseli Gallen-Kallela, John Singer Sargent and William McTaggart among others, created evocative paintings of a variety of sitters from different spectrums of society. Portrait painting and the visual representation of a human subject varied in narratives and in aesthetic choices, decisions and approaches. Painting genres such as Symbolism, Romanticism, Impressionism, Realism and Academic Portraiture became the trademarks of 19th century portrait painting. Still today we see the language and the influences of these paintings in modern portraiture, their mark having remained throughout the consecutive centuries.
In Illustrated Bodies, the photographer attempts to combine, re-interpret and challenge the aesthetic visuals and the grand narratives presented by these two distinct visual mediums. The 19th century was the dawn of a new age and saw the initial invention and development of photography as an instrument of documentation as well as a tool for artistic pursuits in expression and exploration. The work consists of photographic adaptions of medical illustrations and portrait paintings from the era of industrialisation that occurred during the 19th century in order to explore the intersection of art and science, photography, painting, illustrative practices and visual representations of narrative, identity and the physical being. By using contemporary photographic methods of representation Illustrated Bodies explores the history and tradition of photographic practices within art and science.
Illustrated Bodies explores the art and practice of 19th century medical illustrations and portrait paintings. Through in-depth and detailed research into the historical context and the practices of each genre, the photographer has created a photographic re-interpretation of both a medical illustration and a portrait painting.
The project hopes to explore the complexities of objectively representing the ailments of human physicality and subjectively portraying ideal and perfect physical bodies. Likewise the body of work explores the aesthetic visuals and the grand narratives presented by the two distinct yet simultaneously occurring mediums. These two visual practices have each influenced contemporary practices in photography in specific uses, including medical photography and in portrait photography.
Illustrated Bodies draws from these influences and attempts to re-interpret and question the representation of the human body in both art and science.