Sparkling Past is a book by art critic Klaus Speidel and artist Benjamin Hugard, designed by Clovis Duran, that invites us to look differently at advertising photography. Rather than showing the final shots, the book is based on an archive of photographs never shown before, pictures advertising photographer Jean-François De Witte only took to prepare the photographs he sold to agencies.
As the authors explain, “each of these pictures had been discarded because it wasn’t quite right yet”. In this sense, their work is appropriation art with a twist. Rather than simply changing the context of works that have already been published, they give centre stage to creations which their initial author disregarded and would have remained invisible without their intervention.
As a document, the book “speaks of a major period of commercial film photography” from 1980 – 2000, the pair explain. A major characteristic of this era is that “the pictures were not digital”. Klaus and Benjamin explain that, “as opposed to computer-generated visuals, an analogue publicity image is – no less than a Renaissance statue – the result of a struggle between matter and the will to create”. The struggle is all the more difficult as the advertising photographer, “does not simply wish to capture, things, states or beings, but often events and actions as well, which are more likely to capture the viewer’s attention but are also more difficult to photograph”. When Jean-François’ was creating these images, “clever handiwork and difficult montages were the order of the day,” Klaus and Benjamin explain. “To correctly photograph a glass is difficult, but to correctly shoot a glass that explodes is an act of prowess.”
But Klaus and Benjamin go even further, “Let’s face it, there are flowers by Jean-François De Witte that are no less appealing than those captured by Robert Mapplethorpe, and chiaroscuro of his dishwashers evokes those of Flemish painting”.
Each of the photographs within the book is an original prototype, the image before it was sent to the advertising team to add a design aspect and message that made them coherently commercial. “Putting on display the prototypes of these creations, we reveal the considerable appeal of originals whose aesthetic is now being recycled by the art world.”
As a result Sparkling Past is a book of photographs that are strangely familiar, a large attribute of their artistic charm. The collaboration between Klaus and Benjamin, art critic and artist, “directly recovers commercial photographs without conceptual mannerism and storytelling; it confronts the aesthetics of advertising with the aesthetic expectations of the art world and in so doing defends a poetics of artifice and imperfection”.
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