CG Assignment 2: Part 2 – Choose an Image from Art History – Notes


Choose an image from Art History which you will visually respond to and reflect on your choice on your learning log (you might initially choose several before narrowing it down, and you can write about the choices and ideas you are considering). Developing your work from Project 1, make your own photographic image or set of images that explores, challenges, or pays homage to the conventions and visual codes of the original image.

Death of Sardanapalus

In the chapter entitled ‘Introduction: An Axis Between Old and New’, Hope Kingsley says:

… Artists renew old modes and themes in the currency of their time. The subjects do not change from one medium or century to the next; we are still compelled by the stories in tableaux and celebrate the beauties of a still life. But the context alters, as does the technology, and for each genre, we find ourselves faced with the same question: what can photography do relative to what has been done in fine art? (3)

When I first saw Tom Hunter’s haunting image, ‘Death of Cortelli’, my reading of it was of abuse against women. The woman, surrounded by religious iconography, lying partially naked on a stained bed, was being crucified by sexual or domestic abuse.

But in actual fact, this was not about the death of Mrs Cortelli’s granddaughter (the woman featured in the image), but was a homage to the dead grandmother from the granddaughter and Tom Hunter for the service provided to the Hackney community of an immigrant woman.

Tom Hunter. ‘Death of Cortelli’. 2009

The image was, however, visually based upon Delacroix’s ‘Death of Sardanapalus’ – an altogether more sinister depiction of women’s lives. Facing certain death, Sardanapalus ordered the slaughter of those precious around him, including women and animals.

‘Death of Sardanapalus’. Eugène Delacroix. 1827

Jeff Wall’s response to the Sardanapalus painting is entitled ‘The Destroyed Room’. To me, it resembles a crime scene, the aftermath of the destruction wrought in the Delacroix picture. These images are predominantly red, suggesting passion, danger, death, and destruction. They portray the overt power wrought by men upon women – shown sexually as either slaughtered, bloody naked corpses or a simple, black, high heel shoe.

Jeff Wall. ‘The Destroyed Room’. 1978.

Recently we have sadly witnessed the deaths of two women in the UK. Both deaths seemingly highlighted the inability of friends and family to understand what is really going on within the home. These are silent unwitnessed traumatic situations which nevertheless resulted in the tragic loss of life.

My photograph titled ‘Death of Another Woman’ is presented in contrast to the above images. It is minimalist, quiet and uncomplicated. The dark negative space connotes loneliness, isolation, and secrecy.

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