As if feigning a private platonic cave on a wall, Agnieszka Brzezanska has pictured the shadow of her hand holding a crystal. The different hues, shades and reflections produced on the wall and their slightly monstrous appearance, are in fact what historian Victor I. Stoichita describes as an “allegory of photography”, a meditation on its indexical condition, the physical connection that light introduces between the snapshot and its referent.
Brzezanska indulges in a form of photography stripped of subject matter. This is an attempt to arrive at the essence, or the ghost of the image by means of a playful analysis of the medium in the era of its digital transfiguration. This self-referential condition involves even the iconographic conditions. What if neither the hand nor the finger is the main organ of the photographer? As for the camera, Brzezanska has decided to underline the importance of optics in the camera and the nature of digital media. What do the refracted shades of the crystal stand for if not for the lens of the camera? How can you fail to notice that the grainy colour of the surface is a result of “digital noise” provoked by forcing a digital camera to work under poor lighting? Those “technical failures” are, in fact, the traces of an inbuilt critical history of the technology and mythology of image making.
Photographing shadows is a form of visual tautology not entirely different to painting brushstrokes, or the fantasy of the drawing of a hand tracing its own contours on paper. There are deep historical and conceptual reasons why the shadow is a site of reflection of the photographic medium. The well known myth on the origin of the art of painting referred to by Pliny in his Natural History, whichattributes its invention to the daughter of a potter of Corinth who traced the silhouette of her lover’s shadow on the wall when he was going abroad, stands also as the primary scene of the art of photography in relation to its function of fixing the fleeting trace of life on a graphic surface. It also points to the emotional load of photographs in general as a matter of retaining the moment and object of desire, independently of the issue of likeness.
From Man Ray’s rayographies, the classical silhouette self-portraits of Stieglitz and Kertesz to Marcel Duchamp’s “Shadows of a Readymade”(1918), the cast of a shadow reminds the viewer of the promise of a body-less memory (as a Victorian writer put it, of “divorcing form from matter”) involved in the mechanically reproduced image. As in Brzezanska ‘s work in general, these photographs record a figment of grace in the midst of banality. One has to be careful, however, of taking them all at face value. At least one of these phantoms is just a copy, a shadow of a shadow.