About the work



     Fictitious Portrait (triple), 1993
Digital photograph
150,5 x 131 cm
Fictitious Portraits have a foundation in portrait photography. However, Cottingham does not use real people as models for the depicted boys but has composed a person from a mix of himself, drawings, wax sculptures and pictures of people of various races, ages and genders. Thus the boys are mutations of a number of actual and fictitious people. They are portrayed with no individual character. Naked, with expressionless faces, they pose in front of a black background.

A common feature of the boys is their genetic similarity to the human. Even so, they seem like artificial creatures created with no human source by manipulating various kinds of image data stored in the computer’s memory. Upon closer inspection you notice a touch of stiffness in the boys’ postures and a strangely glazed expression in their eyes. Thus the youths appear as simulations conceived in the virtual world of the computer.

In today’s information society it is no longer obvious what is regarded as natural and what is regarded as artificial. This discrimination becomes perplexing when the artificial is admitted into the human body, the artificial with the natural, the body and technology begin to coalesce.

In his series Fictitious Portraits Cottingham explores what this development means to our understanding of the human, and to our individuality. Utilising a computer to create the human body on the one hand is a reflection that the perspective we apply to the world is constructed. On the other, it is a comment on the ‘constructed’ body, i.e. the human understood from a technological perspective.

In the information society the development of technology and bioengineering is so rapid that yesterday’s science fiction soon becomes tomorrow’s reality. The human genome has been mapped. Genetic engineering has enabled us to manipulate and clone the genes. Humans can create identical copies of themselves. People of today have the possibility of altering their looks through plastic surgery or having prosthetics or new organs implanted when the old ones cease to function optimally. It is not only technology that limits our possibilities. Today it is an ethical question too, whether we are willing to exploit existing knowledge in the fields of technology and bioengineering.

Keith Cottingham’s art in general
Often Cottingham’s works are spectacular, large format pictures based in portraits or architectural interiors. The photographs, which are constructed from drawings, wax sculptures and digital image manipulation programs, resemble the three-dimensional models used in the film industry. But Cottingham’s models do not exist in any physical sense; they are merely immaterial visualisations.

Since the early 1990s Cottingham has experimented with technologies of digital manipulation which have made it possible to alter photographic images to a hitherto unseen degree. The new technology rests on the fact that all visual information, such as photographs, can be converted into electronic numeric codes transmitting the contrasts, colours, tonal qualities, etc. of the original image. This takes the form of the image’s smallest components, the so-called pixels, which are stored in the computer’s memory and can be arranged and structured completely according to the user’s needs and wishes.

This is a fundamental difference between digital images and analogue photography. In the digital image it becomes manifest that the picture is a construction. The individual pixels are interchangeable and thus the final picture is always the result of a series of choices or codings; choices which may or may not result in what we usually understand as photographic reproductions of e.g. people or architectural spaces.

Although at face value Cottingham’s portraits and architectural pictures resemble conventionally developed photographs, they are always digitally manipulated. In a very direct manner the computer manipulated pictures negate the photograph’s authentic character. They seem as artificially designed images constructing new realities rather than reproducing reality. In this manner Cottingham’s digitally manipulated art photographs emphasise photography as a fictitious universe while incorporating modern technology, in the form of the computer, as an integral part of a modern audience’s understanding of reality.

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