Jojakim Cortis and Adrian Sonderegger painstakingly recreate iconic photographs and images of world-famous events using miniature, three-dimensional studio reconstructions. Bill Knight talked to them about how they do it, and why.
Let’s talk about the reconstruction of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s Behind the Gare St Lazare. How did you make the background? I assume the jumping man was pulled forward to make the reconstruction three-dimensional. Did you blur his edges in Photoshop in the finished image? How did you do the puddle?
We don’t use Photoshop except for contrast, levels, etc. The man is a separate object. We gave the illusion of movement by vibrating him with the spring you can see in the reconstruction and using a longer exposure. The railings are all made by hand as physical objects, as are the wheelbarrow and the other objects on the ground. We copied the advertisement by hand and got the shine on the puddle by using epoxy resin.
Very occasionally we might use photography to correct a small detail when we have finished the construction.
Did you discuss any of the reconstructions with any of the original photographers? What did they think?
Not at the beginning but when we decided to make a book we approached the photographers or their foundations for their blessing. We didn’t get any specific comments but we did get positive approval from Gursky, Eggleston and others.
Film makers have so far steered clear of recreating an image of 9/11: maybe they think it’s still too raw. Did you think you were on special ground here?
There was a 9/11 exhibit at Arles in 2016. For us this was quite special because this was an event that happened in our lifetime. There is no iconic image of 9/11 and we had to choose the image from thousands. Maybe the sieve of history will produce an icon. We will see.
What have you learned about the nature of photography from this project? Has it changed your picture-taking?
It’s hard to say, but yes, maybe we believe even more in the power of photography – in the truth of photography. We have learned about the objects in the reconstructions as we set about reproducing them, for example the house in the image of the Munich Olympic terrorist. We have also learned a lot about the history surrounding each image. Our professional photography is staged so that hasn’t changed much.
Perhaps slightly frivolously – did you ever think about recreating the moment before or after the image? Cartier-Bresson’s jumper falling in the puddle? Maximilian’s last cigarette?
Funny you should ask that. We have talked about it, but at the moment we are completely focused on the image in hand. Maybe in the future, a new project?
Which image in the book was the most difficult, and which the most fun?
I would say the most difficult was the Exxon Valdez because of the difficulty of making the water. The book doesn’t show the scale, but it had to be very big to get the illusion of size and depth. The images tend to be fun at the beginning but then we have to get down to it. One reconstruction which isn’t in the book is Tank Man from Tiananmen Square. We ordered the tank kits on Chinese eBay and it was a lot of fun to make the first one. But the second was just work.
You now know these images better than the original photographers. If you could have taken one of them, which would it be?
I wouldn’t say that we know them better. I am sure the photographers spent a lot of time and attention on the images before or sometimes after they had taken them. Our favourites vary between us and from time to time. Adrian’s current favourite is Tsunami from 2004 photographed by an unknown tourist. This image shows a paradise just one moment before its destruction – before the Tsunami waves hit the pool area of a luxury resort in Indonesia. Heaven and hell in the same picture. It was a lot of work to reconstruct the setting. Jojakim chooses the footprint on the moon. After all he would have had to have been there!
Interview conducted by Bill Knight from theartsdesk.com