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english abstract of the monograph 'Body. Projection. Picture - a cultural history of shadow pictures' (2015)

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Body. Projection. Picture – A Cultural History of Shadow Pictures
B. P. P – A C H 
S P
Tim Otto Roth: Körper. Projektion. Bild Eine Kulturgeschichte
der Schattenbilder, Paderborn (Wilhelm Fink) 2015, 528 pages,
German, 96 b/w, 60 colour pictures, hardcover.
ISBN: 978-3-7705-5958-9
For more information and full text research please consult
In the form of x-ray radiography, shadow pictures have radically altered our modern
understanding of images (in e Structure of Scientic Revolutions, omas Kuhn
speaks of the shock triggered by Wilhelm Röntgen’s discovery). is cultural history
of shadow pictures starts by going much further back in human history for a piece
of anthropological speculation, asking whether shadows projected by relight in
prehistoric caves launched a learning process that caused humans to become a
visually literate species, what the philosopher Hans Jonas has called “Homo pictor”.
Shadows being captured in a picture of which they are the sole constitutive content,
on the other hand, is a relatively recent phenomenon and one which, unlike shadows,
has not previously been explored in depth. e study’s focus on the period between
the 19th century and the present is due to a crucial fact: with the emergence of
photochemical picture-making procedures, it became comparatively easy to x the
shadow of a three-dimensional object on a at surface as a picture.
Over more than 500 pages, the study brings together the results of fteen years
work on the subject (see, among others, the research portal founded by Roth:, including a bibliography with over 1000 references and
an extensive name and subject index. What makes the work as a whole so lively is
that Roth, as both scholar and artist, takes a practical view of the material processes
by which shadow pictures are created, approaching them in terms of production
is study of the cultural history of shadow pictures takes a modular approach,
examining the subject through various themes from the history of art and science.
Chapter 1 addresses fundamental procedural aspects of shadow pictures, discussing
in detail the phenomenon of the shadow and the dierent ways of recording it as
a picture. In a brief excursion into the history of projective geometry, the concept
II Abstract
of projection is explained, understood as a process of translation from a three-
dimensional body into a two-dimensional representation. Why a silhouette can
never be more than a caricature of a shadow picture, and why a contact copy is
not a shadow picture becomes clear in the Chapter 2, which explains that the key
factors in shadow projection are the quality of the light source and the relative
position in space of the object projected. Chapter 3 presents an example of a
scientic application: the shadowgraphs (Schattenaufnahmen) developed in the
1910s by Paul Linder (a German microbiologist little studied by scholars to date)
as a kind of camera-less instant picture-making procedure. Chapter 4 explores
Röntgen’s discovery in terms of the “x-ray aesthetics” of plasticity and transparency.
One discovery here is the teleradiographic full-body pictures developed by the
Dutchman Denis Mulder in the 1920s at his private clinic in the highlands of
Java. e study focuses particular attention on x-ray cinematography combining
the x-ray process with the motion picture. Based on the distinction between direct
and indirect processes, as used among others by the German radiologist Robert
Janker, a closer look is taken at parallels in artistic shadow motion picture. Chapter
5 contrasts the very dierent work of the three artists now most closely associated
with the introduction of shadow pictures into art after World War I: Christian
Schad, Man Ray and László Moholy-Nagy. No previous study has dealt in such
depth with the “Schadographs” created as a casual pursuit by Christian Schad in
1919 in Geneva, as well as the “Rayographs” that Man Ray began making in Paris
around 1921/22. is account of Man Ray is very dierent to that usually given
in the literature, discussing his early artistic development in the United States and
revealing a highly distinctive, projective approach to images as a “new art in two
dimensions”. To understand Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s view of his “photograms”, the
study focuses on his self-identication as a dilettante and his calling as a teacher. In
a confrontation with Walter Benjamin, the study critically rethinks the relationship
between (picture) production and (picture) reproduction under technical conditions.
Chapter 6 outlines various developments since World War II up to the present. One
radical break dealt with here is the increasing use of colour positive procedures since
the 1980s that have led younger artists to develop a documentary understanding of
shadow pictures. Chapter 7 focuses on the human body: four works from 1974 by
the Graz-based artist Peter Gerwin Homann are used to show the diverse ways in
which humans can leave pictorial traces on light-sensitive material, and how this
diers, for example, from Yves Kleins body imprints. is highlights the importance
of the performative context for artists when they expose the human body (often
their own) to light-sensitive material. Finally, in Chapter 8, a comparison of works
by the Italian painter Fabio Sandri and the German sculptor Jörg Wagner is used
to show how artists relate shadows and spaces in pictures, and capture entire rooms
on large-format light-sensitive materials; in addition, Claudio Parmiggiani’s smoke
projections are contrasted with the shadows painted onto canvases or walls by Jiro
Takamatsu, whose oeuvre is barely known outside Japan.
Body. Projection. Picture – A Cultural History of Shadow Pictures
is cultural history of shadow pictures responds to Hans Belting’s appeal for
a “physics of pictures” (Physik des Bildes) and supplies an exact description of
what is understood by shadow pictures in general and shadowgraphs in particular.
is approach also has implications for our understanding and classication of
other image technologies, such as camera-based photography, but also for picture
theories. One consequence of the proposed approach – dening pictures not in
terms of recording medium alone, but in terms of the way they are projected – is
that it becomes implausible to dene a photographic image purely in terms of the
use of a light-sensitive recording material. In terms of picture theory, this study
implicitly suggests that pictures should be recognized and promoted as cognitive
tools independent of language. e author understands the concept of projection
as a counter-model to approaches based on semiotic theory, oriented more towards
physics and geometry. Among other things, the concept of projection opens up
an entirely new reading of the picture theory of the philosopher Edmund Husserl,
who adapts Hermann Graßmann’s geometric concept of “Abschattung” using the
term adumbration (from the Latin for shadow, umbra) analogously to projection
and refers explicitly to visual phenomena. In this context, Husserl’s concept of
similarity suggests that when we speak of similarity, we actually mean an “inner
relatedness” (innere Verwandschaft) that causes us to create an imagined projective
link between a picture and what it represents, grasping the picture as what Man
Ray called a “parallel realization”.
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