Welcome to our Pop Up Gallery. Here we curate artifacts and oddities in the Project B vintage photography collection. Featured now is: Pop-up: Fotoescultura
Displaying the three-dimensional representation of a revered figure on an altar or a shrine is as ancient as sculpture itself. Especially in Mexican cultures deeply influenced by Catholicism, the practice of placing an effigy in a small shrine in the home to enhance the physical presence of an honored saint remains a deeply engrained devotional practice. Equally widespread in both Mexico and Mexican American cultures is the integration of photographs into memorial altars, in order to recall ever more vividly a loved one who has departed our world but whose lifelike presence we wish to invoke.
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So, it seems almost inevitable that in Mexico these two traditions—the three-dimensional effigy and the memorial photograph—would intersect and meld into a potent new form. The genre of fotoescultura—literally, “photo sculpture”—arose in the 1930s when artisans began carving three-dimensional wooden cutouts based on a studio photograph (usually procured by a traveling salesman). After carving and painting the wooden bust and adhering the photograph to it, the artisan would add hand-tinting and embellishments such as jewelry and costuming to create a startling likeness. As photography historian Geoffrey Batchen observes, “while the photograph usually speaks to us of the past…fotoescultura speaks of eternal life…the fully dimensioned presence of the present.”
Soon family portraits, in both solo and group poses, were being commissioned for special occasions such as weddings and anniversaries, blurring ever more the line between solemn memorial and popular keepsake, between sacred and secular. High-quality fotoesculturas are now beginning to take their place in private collections of folk and religious art as a unique transformation of vernacular photographs into objects of haunting power.
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