Visual Culture
Representing Representing | Depicting Depicting


Diego Velazquez, Las Meninas, 1656. Oil on canvas, 10'5" x 9'1"
Museo del Prado, Madrid

Points to consider: what is the artist painting? the is artist representing himself to the viewer (positioned where?), in the company of the royal family; artist is looking "out" toward the viewer, and the image in mirror reflects idealized viewers (king and queen of Spain) who would occupy the actual viewer's position represented in the painting. See schematic of the implied layout of the room.

Edouard Manet, Bar at the Folies-Bergere, 1881-82. Oil on canvas, 37.5" x 51". Courtauld Institute Galleries, London.

What is the position of the viewer, and why is the reflection in the mirror off to the right? The woman at the bar is "looking out" "at us," which is also the position of the artist, and the position of the customer at the bar. The social setting, the frontal view of the woman, and the symbolism of the bar also suggests a scene of sexual proposition by the customer, whose position we are now in as viewers.

Henri Matisse, Studio, Quai St-Michel, Paris, 1916. Oil on canvas. Phillips Collection, Washington, DC.

Note: the flattened picture plane, dislocated space, a viewing position (where?), a gesture to a world "outside" the window, but the act of representing is happening in the studio with a nude model and a drawing board or easel with a beginning sketch.

Helmut Newton, Self-Portrait with Wife and Model,
Vogue Studio, Paris, 1981. Gelatin silver print.

Now the camera controls point of view and the position of the viewer. Decode the scene: the artist in the picture is represented in the act of making the photograph reflected in the mirror, a model with her back to the viewer but a frontal image in the mirror is in the center but looks away, an observer (woman in chair) looks at the model, another woman's legs and shows are in the mirror and therefore obscured but in front of the central figure, and there is a gesture to a world outside the studio (street outside window). It is an image of "making a photograph" in a studio, not "taking a picture."

Jeff Wall, Image for Women, 1979. Cibachrome light box. 224 x 162 cm. Centre Pompidou, Paris.

A reinterpretation of the scene of representation in Manet's Bar. Now the camera lens in the center of the picture takes over the scene. The reflection of the camera in the mirror is in the position of the viewer. The photograph is staged with the woman looking "out" at the viewer, who must adjust to being directly looked at by the camera lens and the woman at the counter. There is no gesture to a world outside, and the photographer is both "taking a picture" and "making a photograph."

Martin Irvine, 2005