Photography began as a tool to capture faces and ended up having its own image. Invented by portrait painter Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre as a short-cut for his work, photography developed into an art itself. And it took Robert Rauschenberg - a photographer with the eye of a painter - to combine the two on the same picture plane and to call it a “combine.”
“Robert Rauschenberg and Photography,” currently at Pace/MacGill Gallery, takes a look at the role of lens art in his art.
As the story goes, Rauschenberg didn’t know whether to pursue painting or photography until Hazel Larsen Archer, a relatively unknown photographer, helped him to know that expression was more important than technique and his Combines – the merging of paint and photo – was born. Rauschenberg pushed the point in his first “combine” with a camera and mount jut out from a painting.
After his camera was swiped, he used photos from magazine and newspapers until copyright infringement lawsuits compelled him to buy a new camera and shoot the back of a director’s chair spread over with a fabric imprinted with the Mona Lisa, along with a newspaper on the seat.
Given Rauschenberg’s penchant for the offbeat, it’s hard to believe that he was first inspired to make art after seeing traditional portraitist: Gainsborough’s “The Blue Boy” and “Pinkie” by Thomas Lawrence and Joshua Reynolds’ “Sarah Siddon.” 6
Rauschenberg was given to see the world and everything in it – photos included - as his palette and his canvas. All of which supports the belief that by changing the way art is made, Rauschenberg freed all art making.