Raoul Ubac, Untitled (Nudes), 1938
Smart Museum of Art
[Christine Mehring] Listen to Lauren Rooney, an intern for this exhibition and a student in my seminar on abstraction, who called Professor Joel Snyder to talk about this photograph.
[Lauren Rooney] The warring nude figures in this work by Raoul Ubac appear carved out of stone, yet Ubac created entirely by combining and manipulating photographs of women. I’m here with photographer and Professor Emeritus Joel Snyder, to understand a little more about this piece. First of all, Professor Snyder, what kind of technique did Ubac use to achieve this three dimensional effect?
[Joel Snyder] He used a photographic darkroom, remember, this is the 30s. And all photography involves exposing film, developing film, and then making prints from the film. So in one sense, it aligns perfectly with what everybody does, in making photographs. And another sense it’s quite different. A negative is made, which is standard for any photographer at the time. But the first thing that this bas relief process requires is a positive on film. It’s put into contact with the negative. And by keeping the negative and positive out of registration that is not being exactly lined up. You get this very strange outlining. And that’s basically what photographic bas relief is about. At least when it’s done well, it looks as though there’s depth there. It looks like it’s a photograph of a bas relief. But there was no bas relief.
[Lauren Rooney] Can you talk a little bit about how Ubac’s ideas about photography and the surrealist ideas compared to what was accepted at their time?
[Joel Snyder] In France at this time, in the 30s. There was no curator of photography, there was no collection of photographs at any museum of art. Photography simply was discounted. It was thought not to have any artistic potential whatsoever. The Surrealists were completely fascinated with new media that could produce effects that painting could not produce. One of the things that the Surrealists wanted to do was to disorient. Ubac makes these bas relief photographs and people know that they’re photographs, but they can’t figure out how you would do this with photography. And that’s one thing that Surrealists love about photography, you can put together a picture that is puzzling.
Long Image DescriptionLong descriptions are text versions of the information provided in a detailed or complex image, like the image above.
Although the surface of this photograph is flat, it appears rough, like a crumbling rock face. Its nude figures stand out from their background as if carved out of stone. Most stand with their backs to the viewer, except one near the center of the photograph who seems to walk forward, and another at bottom right who appears to have fallen, a stray arm attached to her hip. Of the two most clearly visible figures, one stands at right, tilting to the left as she raises a pole above her head, while the other stands at center, seemingly headless, with her left arm stretched sideways and bent at the elbow as if to throw. The right sides of their bodies seem to dissolve into the roughness of the background. Amid suggestions of hands, torsos, and flowing hair, a sword hilt appears at top right, and a net at bottom left.