Review by Dan Johns & Douglas Stockdale •
This book and the images within define a generation. The myopic, narcissistic psychological disposition of a generation is clearly the focal point of these photos; the mobile phone photographer, the “viewer”, although without name or discernable form, plays a major role in the story: not the Louvre; not the masterpieces. These serve in supporting roles.
What makes this book of images so relevant is that it succinctly captures the social media “one second scroll”, “like”, “swipe right, swipe left” zeitgeist that renders our aesthetics and our most poignant experiences into a series of 1s and 0s. Our art, in fact our greatest achievements in the visual arts: the Mona Lisa, the most well-known and iconic in the canon of Western art, yield their gifts over time and exploration of the composition, surface and subject matter. Furthermore, art, especially great art, makes the viewer feel. There is meaning that needs to unfurl and a story that needs to coalesce. The irony that Antonio Perez Rio captures so perfectly is that the viewer has transformed the experience into a fleeting moment, a social media post: as temporary and meaningless as a firefly’s momentarily incandescent sprite.
It seems that every current event will usually include a sea of extended arms attached to the ubiquitous cell phone cameras waving in an attempt to capture what is transpiring. In a similar manner, Antonio Perez Rio, while repeatedly touring Paris’s Louvre Museum, was struck by the frequent attempts of the visitors to seemingly try to document their experience via their cell phones. Rio could not help but notice that an act of visual contemplation was being replaced by a momentary cellphone image-capture and that the individuals were then quickly moving on to “gaze” at the next painting or sculpture.
Granted the Louvre is to the point of being overwhelming on the first visit. The huge towering halls are lined with Masterpieces painting, one after another. This situation does call into question of how one is really able to comprehend all of the visual works of art? This is perhaps compounded by those who are on a guided tour wearing the prerequisite head-phones while on an almost steady pace through the museum. The thong will momentary hesitation at each great painting to have some salient point made by their guide over the headphones. Paris itself is a daunting visit; thus, this same crowd may have the Norte Dame tour after lunch, then the boat trip on the River Seine and perhaps dinner overlooking the glowing Eiffel Tower.
The observed issue perhaps lies with our transient memories, our inability to hold and retain a lasting or detailed memory? Capturing the moment with a mobile photograph appears to be expected to provide a kind of talisman image that will surely trigger the experience of standing before a huge painting by a renowned artist. By why not just purchase the museum’s book in their book store? It seems there is still the desire to “see” the work of art, however briefly, to claim visual ownership
Rio states about this project “Contemplation has given way to accumulation, an accumulation conducted by means of all sorts of digital devices, veritable cyclops that pound through the museum hallways stockpiling everything they see in their bottomless memory, generating a new way of staying and being in the world, a transformation of the art experience that points toward a profound modification of human nature”.
Toward that end Rio frames his photographs to include the “cyclops” and not its owner who remains ambiguous while the museum art work (intended “subject”) provides an unwitting the backdrop. Rio captures the image being made on the cyclops; is it the entire painting or cropped, revealing what might be of most interest to the cyclop’s owner. There are intriguing hints as to the cyclops ownership; simple cell phone, two handed capture, huge hovering iPad, the Minnie-Mouse cell phone version or perhaps a phone-on-a-stick. We can now contemplate what was being contemplated and wonder if the multitude of images are ever referred back to again, perhaps only providing a momentary social media post to celebrate “I was here”.
Photographer: Antonio Perez Rio (residing Madrid, Spain)
Publisher: LENS books, Madrid, copyright 2018
Essay: Antonio Perez Rio
Text: English & Spanish
Hardcover book, sewn binding, List of Works, Art Guide, four-color lithography, printed in Palermo
Photobook designer: Diseno Underbrau