Diego Velazquez, Las Meninas, 1656. Oil on canvas, 10'5"
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
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
Martin Irvine, 2005