A curious attraction made its appearance in fun fairs and amusement parks, in the years following World War I. The photo-shooting gallery. When the customer hit the bullseye, he or she triggered a camera, winning them a snapshot of themselves in the act of shooting. The metaphorical charge of the activity is obvious—upon looking at their portrait the shooter sees the gun, still trained in their hands a moment after its discharge, aimed at themselves. Shoot! Existential Photography will investigate these numerous analogies between taking photographs and shooting. Showcasing vernacular and vintage images alongside contemporary pieces, the exhibition will trace back the history of this image making process from its days as a popular sideshow to its re-appropriation by various artists.
The exhibition will open with a collection of anonymous shooting-gallery photographs. These images, ranging from the 1920s to the 1970s, explore not only the shooter’s pose and expression but also those of the people gathered round to view the spectacle and the changing technology used in the process. In almost every picture #7 publisher Erik Kessels displays a series of over sixty self-portraits by Dutch woman, Ria van Dijk, taken at the funfair over a period of eight decades.
A slide show installation entitled Celebrity Cabinet (1929-1955) will feature shooting portraits by some of the period’s most noted artists and intellectuals. These include existentialist French philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, surrealist Man Ray and photographers Robert Frank, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Brassaï among others. Many of these famous figures were believed to be fascinated by the mechanical process used in photo-shooting galleries and the philosophical ideas it alluded to such as a duel with the self and destruction of the ego.
The same concepts and ideas continue to captivate a new generation of artists. In Just Because (2010) Emilie Pitoiset reprints photo-shooting gallery pictures on silver paper which she then cuts up to create the bullet’s hypothetical trajectory. The final piece recalls images of shattered mirrors and feelings of tension and imbalance. To artists Rudolf Steiner and Jean-François Lecourt the camera also serves as the target. In both Steiner‘s series Pictures of me, shooting myself into a picture (1997) and Lecourt’s Tirs (1985-2010) the artists use the bullet’s calamitous action to pierce the camera’s body and generate an image. This process results in self-portraits marked with bullet holes.
Sylvia Ballhause’s multi-medium installation comprises of a collection of found shooting portraits of an unknown man (Shooting himself, 2008); a staged photograph of woman in the act of shooting (Shooting myself, 2008); and a photo-shooting gallery sculpture (Shooting Range, 2007). British artist Steven Pippin will showcase two photographs from his on-going series A Non Event alongside a new, specially commissioned sculptural piece of the same series.
Also included in the exhibition are Fire at Will (1972) a short film and an accompanying print by Niki de Saint Phalle; The last shot (1990), a series of photographs by Patrick Zachmann; and Agnès Geoffray’s The Female Shooter (2005).
An exhibition highlight will be Christian Marclay’s video-sound installation Crossfire (2007). For this piece Marclay edited together Hollywood film samplings depicting moments in which the actors on screen begin to take aim at movie theatre audiences. The montage, showcased on four surrounding screens, will transport the viewer into a visual and acoustic crossfire from all sides. At the end of the exhibition, visitors will have the unique opportunity to take portraits of themselves in a photographic shooting gallery.
Shoot! Existential Photography is curated by Clément Chéroux, Curator, Department of Photography, Centre Pompidou and co-produced by the Rencontres d’Arles and the Museum Für Photographie, Braunschweig.