Exhibition: ‘In Focus: Making A Scene’ at The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 30th June – 18th October, 2009


Dora Maar. 'Le Simulateur' (The Pretender) 1936


Dora Maar
‘Le Simulateur’ (The Pretender)


Man Ray. 'Rrose Sélavy (Marcel Duchamp)' 1923


Man Ray
‘Rrose Sélavy (Marcel Duchamp)’


Anonymous. 'Woman Reading to a Girl' French, c. 1845


‘Woman Reading to a Girl’
French, c. 1845


Julia Margaret Cameron. 'Venus Chiding Cupid and Removing His Wings' 1872


Julia Margaret Cameron
‘Venus Chiding Cupid and Removing His Wings’
Album silver print



“Photography, although commonly associated with truthfulness, has been used to produce fiction since its introduction in 1839. The acceptance of staging, and the degree of its application, has varied greatly depending on the genre and the historical moment, but it has persisted as an artistic approach. The photographs in this exhibition, drawn exclusively from the J. Paul Getty Museum’s collection, make no pretense about presenting the world as it exists; instead, they are the productions of directors and actors who rely on stagecraft and occasional darkroom trickery to tell stories.
Spanning photography’s history and expressing a range of sentiments, the images in this exhibition are inspired by art history, literature, religion, and mainstream media.

Like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and his other books, Lewis Carroll’s photographs are fantasies starring his friends’ children. In the image above, children enact the mythological story of Saint George, the patron saint of England, slaying a child-eating dragon before it could devour a princess.

Life Imitating Art

Well-represented in this exhibition are tableaux vivants (living pictures), inspired by the popular Victorian parlor game in which costumed participants posed to resemble famous works of art or literary scenes.
The genre paintings of 17th-century Dutch masters Johannes Vermeer and Pieter de Hooch fascinated Guido Rey. Not self-conscious about being slavish to the past, he carefully studied the paintings and then arranged similar tableaux for his camera. His photographs captured equally serene domestic scenes and mimicked the minute architectural details of 17th-century interiors, such as the leaded-glass windowpanes and the checkerboard floor.

Playing Dress Up

The exhibition also includes costume studies of people posing as literary characters and self-portraits of artists pretending to be other people.

American painter and photographer Man Ray and the French artist Marcel Duchamp met in New York in 1915, and they began a playful, iconoclastic collaboration that resulted in the photograph at right, among others. Influenced by Dadaism, a cultural movement that rejected reason and logic in favor of anarchy and the absurd, their work embraced games of chance, performance, and wordplay. Here an irreverent Duchamp appears in women’s clothing as his alter ego, Rrose Sélavy, a pun on the French pronunciation “Eros, c’est la vie” (Sex, that’s life).


Lewis Carroll. 'Saint George and the Dragon' June 26, 1875


Lewis Carroll
‘Saint George and the Dragon’
June 26, 1875


Man Ray. 'Tears' 1930 - 1932


Man Ray
1930 – 1932


Eileen Cowin. 'Untitled' from the series Family Docudrama 1980 - 1983


Eileen Cowin
‘Untitled‘ from the series Family Docudrama
1980 – 1983



Imaginary Subjects

A number of photographs in the exhibition explore the medium’s capacity to visualize subjects of the imagination by using darkroom trickery to manipulate prints.
An optician and family man, Ralph Eugene Meatyard photographed his children, friends, and neighbors enacting dramas in suburban backyards and abandoned buildings near his Lexington, Kentucky, home. He often used experimental techniques, such as multiple exposures and blurred motion. Uncanny details imbue Meatyard’s otherwise ordinary vernacular scenes with the qualities of a dream or supernatural vision.

Theatricality as a Critical Strategy

In recent decades there has been renewed interest in theatricality among contemporary photographers whose highly artificial scenes critique mainstream media and representation.
In her series Family Docudrama Eileen Cowin blurs the boundaries between truth and fiction, and private behavior and public performance. Drawing equally from family snapshots and soap operas, Cowin presents staged domestic scenes in which she and members of her family, including her identical twin sister, perform as actors. In these ambiguous, open-ended narratives, dramatic moments are exaggerated, and the camera’s glare is ever present.”

Text from The Getty Museum website


Lucas Samaras. 'Photo-Transformation' November 22, 1973


Lucas Samaras
November 22, 1973


Lucas Samaras. 'Photo-Transformation' September 9, 1976


Lucas Samaras
September 9, 1976


Ralph Eugene Meatyard. 'Untitled (Michael and Christopher Meatyard)' 1966


Ralph Eugene Meatyard
‘Untitled (Michael and Christopher Meatyard)’


Joel Peter-Witkin. 'Mother and Child (with Retractor, Screaming)' 1979


Joel Peter-Witkin
‘Mother and Child (with Retractor, Screaming)’



The Getty Museum at the Getty Center
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, California 90049

Opening hours:
Tues – Friday 10 – 5.30pm
Saturday 10 – 9pm
Sunday 10 – 9pm
Monday closed

The Getty Museum website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

September 2009
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