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David Smith in Two Dimensions

Photography and the Matter of Sculpture

Sarah Hamill (Author)

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Hardcover, 296 pages
ISBN: 9780520280342
January 2015
$49.95, £34.95
How does photography shape the way we see sculpture? In David Smith in Two Dimensions, Sarah Hamill broaches this question through an in-depth consideration of the photography of American sculptor David Smith (1906–1965). Smith was a modernist known for radically shifting the terms of sculpture, a medium traditionally defined by casting, modeling, and carving. He was the first to use industrial welding as a sustained technique for large-scale sculpture, influencing a generation of minimalists to come. What is less known about Smith is his use of the camera to document his own sculptures as well as everyday objects, spaces, and bodies. His photographs of sculptures were published in countless exhibition catalogs, journals, and newspapers, often as anonymous illustrations. Far from being neutral images, these photographs direct a pictorial encounter with spatial form and structure the public display of his work.

David Smith in Two Dimensions looks at the sculptor’s adoption of unconventional backdrops, alternative vantage points, and unusual lighting effects and exposures to show how he used photography to dramatize and distance objects. This comprehensive and penetrating account also introduces Smith’s expansive archive of copy prints, slides, and negatives, many of which are seen here for the first time. Hamill proposes a new understanding of Smith’s sculpture through photography, exploring issues that are in turn vital to discourses of modern sculpture, sculptural aesthetics, and postwar art. In Smith’s photography, we see an artist moving fluidly between media to define what a sculptural object was and how it would be encountered publicly.
Acknowledgments
Introduction: The Problem of Photography and Sculpture
1. Toward Mass Reproduction as a Public Display
2. Aerial Vision, Photographic Abstraction, and the Surface of Sculpture
3. Images of Nonbelonging: Dramatizing Autonomy in the Sculptural Group
4. Picturing Color in Space
5. The Terrain of the Vulgar: Smith’s 1963–64 Nudes
Conclusion: Framed and Unframed Space
Notes
Bibliography
List of Illustrations
Index
Sarah Hamill is Assistant Professor of Art History at Oberlin College.

1

Toward Mass Reproduction as a Public Display

Yet the frantic abolition of all distances brings no nearness; for nearness does not consist in shortness of distance. What is least remote from us in point of distance, by virtue of its picture on film or its sound on the radio, can remain far from us.

Martin Heidegger, "The Thing," 1950

The year is 1946. David Smith has received two of his largest exhibitions to date, a pair of shows that earned him wide praise and helped to secure his reputation as "the best young sculptor in the country," as Clement Greenberg then lionized him in The Nation. Each exhibition included what the New Yorker critic Robert Coates called in a review Smith's "frenzied" postwar production, and each assumed a different audience using two distinct modes of display. The exhibitions reflected back to Smith two models of what sculpture's public address could be: one was spatial and material, inciting an experience of steel sculpture in the round, while the other was photographic, in which his works' pictorial qualities were amplified and dramatized in two dimensions.

In New York, the exhibition encompassed two Fifty-Seventh Street galleries-Smith's own, the Willard, and the neighboring Buchholz-to present fifty-four sculptures, along with drawings, in a way that invited critics to track Smith's career. Coates noted a "slump" during the war and a frenetic pace afterward, as the artist produced twenty sculptures in a frenzy he attributed to a "wartime obsession . . . still working its way to the surface." Greenberg observed a similar explosion of subject matter in Smith's postwar productions, although he was less impressed, noting that Smith's "phase of extravagance, disorder, and agitation is something he seems compelled to work his way through" linking the artist's "baroque vein" to "late history."

In an essay he wrote for the exhibition catalog, W. R. Valentiner hoped to couch those "wartime obsession[s]" in formal analysis. He explained how Smith manipulated two-dimensional images to achieve a three-dimensional encounter: "By walking around these sculptures, which are intended to be seen from all sides, the masses appear to be constantly shifting, revealing new views of exploding energy, of which parts seem to break through the frame unexpectedly, as if darting into space." Valentiner presented Smith's imagery of violence and war by evoking spatial instability and broken, bursting frames-a language aimed at a public looking for narratives of postwar reconstruction. The critic Harold Clurman took a similar tack:

This young American sculptor has put the nervousness, conflict, horror of our day into forms that seem to fly. They have so much movement that one almost expects to see them burst through the walls and take refuge in some more appropriate place than the rooms in which they are imprisoned. When I first saw these pieces I had the impulse to protect myself by an indulgence in the usual cant: that they might be more successful as drawings, that they seemed to derive from post cubist paintings with the now ubiquitous use of bird forms and special animal life as motifs to convey painful ideas. But Smith uses steel; and this is an inspiration, a novelty that in the final count convinces us of its inevitability. Steel strikes us not only as a modern, but as an American medium. . . . In Smith, the violence is a high-voltage shock.

Deciding that Smith's imagery would not be better rooted in two dimensions, Clurman noted how Smith's sculpture nonetheless ruthlessly underscored conflict: the "high-voltage shock" suited sculptures, especially those made from steel.

Meanwhile the second Smith exhibition, sponsored by the American Association of University Women, was beginning to circulate to thirteen small cities in the American South and Midwest. It too had a retrospective pitch, and in the course of four years it traveled to such venues as the East Central State College and Public Library in Ada, Oklahoma, and the Indiana State Teachers College in Terre Haute, Indiana, where the "median city [population was] 12,000." The works that traveled to these midwestern towns, packed in crates "with hinged, padlocked lids," were mostly Smith's photographs; only two to nine of Smith's sculptures were exhibited at any given stop. The photographs, thirty in all, twenty-one of them taken by Smith himself, had been professionally enlarged to poster size and mounted on heavy Masonite. The emphasis on photographs was due to the prohibitive costs of shipping steel sculpture. Although the exhibition's organizer, Lura Beam, had reservations about photography because it was too easily "accepted . . . [as] the real thing," she defended her decision to use the photographs, stating, "It was photographs or nothing." The exhibition served to introduce Smith's sculpture to a public vastly different from his New York audience-a public well equipped, according to Beam, with a knowledge of steel production and machine shops.

If the New York exhibition solidified the spatial innovations of Smith's sculptures, the traveling show displayed a different model of his objects in their photographic reproductions. The exhibition made a significant impact on the sculptor. What began in practicality-photographs were cheaper to exhibit than sculptures-ended in an illuminating definition of what photography could achieve: it could structure a transportable display for sculpture that rerouted its spatial imagery in a pictorial plane.

Smith was impressed by the audience the American Association of University Women show had produced. Although none of the works had sold, the exhibition's travels meant that Smith's work had reached a broad public, numbers that inspired confidence. On his copy of the flyer for the exhibition, Smith scrawled some notes after the show's figures had come in: "Traveling Show / To Library [sic] and Small Towns / During 2 Years-20,000 attendance / american association of university women / Exhibition still being booked." In the AAUW exhibition, Smith found a way to invent and project his sculptures photographically, thus settling on a corollary to the photographs that Constantin Brancusi disseminated of his sculptures, images Smith knew well. Beginning in the 1920s, Brancusi had crafted a public image for his work, publishing his photographs in journals such as Little Review, This Quarter, Cahiers d'Art, and Minotaure. Like the elder sculptor, Smith seized on reproduction as a public address, thanks to the AAUW display.

One measure of the AAUW exhibition's success can be found in a letter the sculptor wrote to his dealer, Marian Willard, in January 1947. Smith pleaded for additional illustrations in an upcoming catalog, citing the uses of photographic reproduction in the reception of his work: "As many or all, if possible in way of reproduction-because reproduction seems to work well and introduce it to out of town people who don't see the show. Reproductions stick in files, libraries and make contact in peoples [sic] minds so when they do get to New York they already know the work in part. Reproduction seems to act as first acquaintance-and eliminate some of the barriers. In our case, I just think reproduction helps the acquaintance and acquisition. I think at least 1 piece was sold in last show from reproduction." When Willard did not include what the sculptor thought were enough images, Smith expressed his disappointment, arguing to Willard that "the catalogue cost is an investment that pays off, if not during the show, during the year." Illustrations could reach a wide audience, making an impact long after his objects were returned to the studio.

As a result of the AAUW exhibition-which showed him the uses of reproduction-Smith devoted most of his funds from a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in 1950 to the purchase of photographic equipment, no small commitment for an artist who had recently complained of a "bad financial year." Smith acquired two cameras and lenses, a tripod, and an exposure meter, justifying these expenses in his renewal application: "Due to my isolation it seemed necessary to purchase the camera, for shop record and for publicity." In the ensuing months, he reshot the sculptures he had made to date, using a consistent style that pictured sculptures individually. He also developed an archival system to catalog the resulting images: each negative was stored in a labeled envelope, with a contact print, marked with crop lines or other instructions for his printer, pasted to its exterior.

Photography was one of two media Smith used to record his output: he also made drawings of his sculptures in his notebooks, which he supplemented with notations on the objects' sizes, dimensions, and colors. In a sketchbook drawing of Cubi III (1961), for instance, Smith created a schematic line drawing to note the basic contours of the sculpture, situating it in a spatial setting designated by a horizon line (fig. 14). He noted the height and width, title, and date and made other simple notations on the work. But Smith regularly sent his photographs-not his drawings-to critics, curators, dealers, and patrons for publication in journals, newspapers, and exhibition catalogs. Unlike drawing, photography could act as a transcription of his production and make his objects visible to a wide audience. Indeed, it seemed as though by the early 1950s, Smith had registered the need to embrace publicity owing to a changed system of artistic patronage. As he told an audience in Norman, Oklahoma, in 1953, "[The artist] has no patron to cajole, but as Herbert Read has pointed out, his great embarrassment is publicity, which seems a necessity in order to become known, but which is so broad and undefined that he couldn't aim his concept to it if he tried." Managing publicity-however ambiguous and difficult the task-was the only option, given the lack of government or individual patronage.

 

Statements like these testify to the artist's commitment to photography as a necessary display for sculpture-a commitment he made between 1946 and 1950, during the years the AAUW exhibition circulated. In the early 1950s, however, Smith also expressed reservations about the camera's ability to adequately document his sculpture. In 1952 he levied a harsh judgment on "the camera eye"-a photographic mode of perception that risked compressing the object's spatial history. Analogizing sculpture to an apple, he wrote in "The Language Is Image": "The true reality of an apple is not any one naturalistic image. The eye of man is not a camera eye, it is a cerebral eye. It is not a two-dimensional photograph, nor any one view. The reality is actually all apples in all actions. Apples are red, yellow, green, round, halved, quartered, sweet, sour, rotten, sensuously felt, hanging, crushed to juice, and all the associations two years would take to tabulate, yet when stimulated the mind can select and experience the desired action in a flash: 'apple' is meaningless without memory." Smith describes the process of viewing an object as open-ended and indeterminate, resulting in an abundant list of descriptors. Photography, by contrast, involved a limited and fixed mode of perception; it stopped the unrestricted process of embodied viewing in its tracks, compressing the spatial openness of an apple-a sculpture-into a single, concrete image.

The problem with the photographic image went beyond its fixity in time and space, however. It was reproducible, a trait Smith vehemently rejected in his sculptural practice. In 1940, he told Maude Riley of Cue magazine: "I don't cast things I make in the shop. In the first place, it wouldn't be possible to duplicate them. If you like them at all, it's not just the shape you like, it's also the marks left by my hammer, my chisel, the file, or the sand blaster." The artist was more emphatic in 1961. "I don't even make copies," he stressed to David Sylvester. "If I make a cast sculpture, I make one and all the marks are mine." Although the sculptor used reproducible processes in his works, his resulting sculptures were original, handmade things.

To make Portrait of a Lady Painter (see plate 1), for instance, Smith reused the molds he fabricated for Portrait of a Painter, completed two years before. To make the molds, he cast found objects, which he coated in clay, and sections of cardboard, which he pieced together using tape. Each mold was cast separately by a commercial foundry. Back in the studio, Smith welded the pieces together-now configuring the parts differently than he did for Portrait of a Painter-and added hatch marks and scratches to their surfaces. The resulting object is not a seamless cast but a reproduction that emphasizes the marks of its own making, echoing Rodin's bronze-casting process: the joints between different pieces and the textured surfaces were pointed up and highlighted rather than obscured. Casting, for Smith, would produce a single, original object. Individual and handmade, Smith's casts opposed the mass-produced object or the serial flow of the assembly line, both of which he saw evidence of in the posthumous casts of works by Rodin and Edgar Degas.

As a reproducible copy-and a spatially delimited one at that-photography raised questions about the role of reproduction in Smith's work, testing his commitment to handmade sculpture. What would it mean to reproduce his sculpture in a photograph? What would his sculpture look like, if it were not an exact copy or replica? In the period during and after the AAUW exhibition, Smith grappled with these questions by testing out a range of pictorial strategies for documenting his work. Like his use of casting to produce handmade objects, Smith employed his camera to create independent images in their own right. Not straightforward or mechanical copies, his photographic reproductions unsettle expectations of what a document is. They materialize and make visible the photograph's mediating process.

Documentary Models

In a 1937 drawing, Smith detailed the workings of a professional photographer's studio (fig. 15). It depicts the photographer Leo Lances, whom Smith knew from the Art Students League, crouching in front of his tripod. Lances's hand reaches around the camera's bellows to adjust the lens. The object of his attention is Smith's Reclining Figure, completed the preceding year. Positioned on a table, the open, constructed figure is set against a rectangular swath of paper, a backdrop that curves down from the tacks used to fasten it to the wall. The lamp, suspended on an adjustable stand, illuminates the setup. In a small inset, Smith presents the scene from a different point of view.

 

Smith describes the props and accessories of the photographer's studio, alerting us to the conventions of sculptural documentation. He would have seen such tropes used in countless illustrations in magazines and books, from the Bruckmann photographs included in the 1932 edition of Adolf von Hildebrand's The Problem of Form to the images used in W. R. Valentiner's 1946 Origins of Modern Sculpture-photographs that rely on the same conventions to present sculpture in neutral visual field.

Smith himself mastered these conventions in 1938, the year John Graham hired him to document selected objects from Frank Crowninshield's collection of African sculpture. Then the sculptor worked alongside Lances, and his resulting images evidenced the studied traits of sculptural documentation. In one photograph, Smith shot the object head-on using a vantage point above the pedestal, which imparts a sense of the sculpture's depth and volume if not its scale (fig. 16). The plain drop cloth and paper covering the table-and the uniform pedestal, which Smith likely built himself-present the object in an empty space. The sculpture is enlarged to fill the frame, a specimen on view. In the photograph, an African sculpture is dissociated from its historical, religious, social, and spatial contexts. It is quarantined by its framing. But this space of order, of aesthetic indifference, is disrupted by Smith's use of lighting. The abstract composition of shadows falling on the cloth detracts from the rhetoric of neutrality that the photograph otherwise declares. Not only does it reference something beyond the picture-a window, perhaps-but it also disrupts a formalist reading of the object, through the shadow, a pictorial abstraction. The image calls to mind Charles Sheeler's use of shadows in his 1916 photographs of African sculptures, which dramatize cubic angularity and volume through the effects of light and dark.

 

Smith was well versed in conventions of documentation, even as he disrupted them as early as the 1930s. These norms were reproduced in professional photographers' presentations of his work, in images that presented sculpture in a decontextualized nonspace. After Smith's first solo show, at the East River Gallery in 1938, his dealer, Marian Willard, hired a number of professional photographers to document his work, including Lances, Eliot Elisofon, Pinchos Horn, and Soichi Sunami. Their photographs followed the same documentary standards Smith had learned, organizing his sculpture in a neutral pictorial field.

When Smith himself first tried his hand at documenting his own sculptures in the 1930s, he had these documentary controls in mind but adapted them to include natural lighting. In 1936, at what was then his summer studio in Bolton Landing, New York, he pictured several of his first welded constructions. Taking his sculptures outside, he used a stump and a canvas as a pedestal and backdrop. Picturing Reclining Construction (1936), he made a number of shots of the sculpture's different sides, turning the object for viewing, even propping it with a stick to make visible its top (fig. 17). Smith was not pleased with the results, and he wrote to his friend the artist Edgar Levy in November 1936: "I photographed most of my sculpture but it doesn't appear any too well in the rustic setting." It's hard to know exactly what the sculptor found disappointing, but his high vantage point and distance from the sculpture may have been the problem. The landscape swallows his sculpture, making it look diminutive and unimpressive. What was needed was a gripping image of his work that conveyed his sculptures' pictorial qualities.

 

Nine years later Smith again turned to photography, while he was living in Bolton Landing year-round, a location that made it difficult for him to rely on his dealer's New York-based photographers. Now Smith again experimented with different lighting effects and backdrops, photographing his sculpture indoors as well as outdoors. In these photographs, many of which were included in the AAUW show, Smith took a comprehensive approach, using a range of experimental techniques.

In some shots, he adopted the studied controls of the photographer's studio. Photographing Head as Still Life II (1943), for instance, Smith positioned the head and its double pedestals against a plain backdrop, so that the object seems suspended in an empty space (fig. 18). An even light falls across its surface, emphasizing its folds and curves. A head-on vantage point permits easy visual access to the object, highlighting its spatial dimensions. Smith demonstrates his ability to capture a learned mode of photographic illusionism. Head as Still Life II is offered up without restraint as a three-dimensional form.

 

In other photographs, however, Smith dramatized his sculptures and, with his photographs, sought to lay bare the device of the camera, using it as an instrument capable of magnifying and abstracting sculptural form in a composition of contrast. Take, for instance, a photograph that Smith shot indoors of Aftermath Figure (1945; fig. 19). The artist has staged his sculpture against a cloth backdrop, but the crests and folds of the sheet make the background less a neutral prop and more an active part of the scene. Stark contrasts of light and dark introduce a quasi-melodramatic tone and dramatize the sculpture's subject matter. Skewed lighting and irregular shadows animate the sculpture, which appears to lunge forward, straddling the light. Its phallic protrusion is echoed on the wall as a shadow, a spectral form. Power and corruption-the qualities the title invokes-are cast here as jarring light and dramatic angles, calling up the antiwar narrative behind the sculpture's making. The photographsummons the skewed war-torn imagery of Picasso's Guernica (1937) by referencing its schismatic black-and-white shapes. In the image, the specters and figures of power come to life.

 

While Smith staged this interior shot as a gripping theater of light by calling attention to the backdrop-otherwise invisible in professional photographer's shots-he also experimented with the control of focus. Picturing Classic Figure III (1944; fig. 20), the artist took his sculpture outside and made the figure part of an even, allover composition by blurring the landscape backdrop. The unfocused dappled shapes mime the sculpture's bodily curves. Just as before, Smith underscores the photographic process by creating jarring effects with focus. The resulting image naturalizes the bodily forms of his female figure in a canvas of mottled dabs.

 

In these two photographs as well as others he made in the mid-1940s, Smith sought a pictorial idiom for his sculpture that implicated the working mechanisms of documentation. He emphasized the effects of artificial lighting, the possibilities for distortion caused by the camera's focus, and the materiality of the studio backdrop. In both interior and exterior shots, Smith followed a guiding structure: he aimed to visualize the procedures of documentation-the lighting and props that might otherwise go unnoticed in a standard documentary image of sculpture. The "optimal" views, head-on vantage points, and neutral backdrops present in his 1930s photographs of African objects: Smith abandoned these conventions when he picked up his camera in the mid-1940s. His photographs stress the camera as an independent and individualized framework in its own right, something capable of magnifying, dramatizing, and altering the objects of its focus.

In two photographs, Smith pushed such experiments to an extreme. The sculptor now depicted his work using stark contrasts and irregular vantage points to present sculpture as part of an abstract composition. To document Spectre of War (1944; fig. 21), for instance, Smith placed it in the foreground, with a snow-covered field behind it-a background that highlights the sculpture's crisp, dark lines and pictorial content. He stationed his camera above the work, looking down. A horizon line is visible in the upper right corner of the image, a clue that this is some kind of inhabitable space. Yet the landscape appears at a remove, distanced from the sculpture by a blurred focus. Spectre of War hovers above its environment like a collaged shape cut from its surroundings, a figure against a planar ground. Once again, Smith structured a composition that uses pictorial contrast to thematize the pitch-black brutality of war.

 

In these photographs, Smith rejects normative strategies of documentation in favor of jarring and nonuniform pictorial compositions. Although the sculptor's photographs refused established models inherited from the nineteenth century, they borrowed conventions of photographic abstraction. Their use of pictorial contrast draws on avant-gardist photographs by Man Ray and László Moholy-Nagy, whose work had influenced the sculptor's 1930s photo-collages and photomontages. Smith's 1945 photographs also build on the abstract compositions of Andreas Feininger, the one professional photographer hired by Willard whose photographs constitute an exception to the conventional images of Lances, Horn, Elisofon, and Sunami.

Feininger's pictorial style was rooted in the European avant-garde; a former student at the Bauhaus, he was influenced by the New Vision photography of Albert Renger-Patzsch and Moholy-Nagy. His 1930s photographs isolated and abstracted their subject matter through bold contrasts, pictorial compositions, and extreme close-ups-calling attention to the planar surface of the image. As Stuart Alexander has written, "Space [appears] shallow if not virtually flat and emphasizing the patterning of the arrangement." In Passion Flower (1935), for instance, a botanical study that resembles those Karl Blossfeldt published in Urformen der Kunst (1929), Feininger positioned his camera close to his subject, magnifying it so that it appears as a flattened plane. Seen against a dark ground, the stems and leaves of the vine look like otherworldly forms. Feininger stresses the camera as a device capable of extreme magnification, here using focus to create a drama of forms.

Feininger adopted a similarly destabilizing tactic when he photographed Smith's sculptures around 1939. Placing Headscrew and Growing Forms (both 1939) on pedestals, which were inspired by Brancusi's, against the landscape of Willard's Long Island house, Feininger stressed their linear shapes by using a low vantage point (fig. 22). A shallow depth of field blurs the backdrop, heightening the angularity of sculpture against a softened sea. The image points up these planar contrasts to demarcate the edges and contours of sculptural forms, a strategy Feininger detailed in his book on photographic methods of 1952. Sculptural dimensionality is reconfigured here as linear shapes presented alongside the blurry autumn brush.

 

Smith was drawn to what he termed Feininger's "dramatic" compositions, and the sculptor appropriated several of Feininger's strategies. Echoing the photograph of Headscrew and Growing Forms, Smith's depiction of Spectre of War uses a low vantage point to reimagine sculpture as an abstract composition of planar contrasts. Photographing Cockfight (1945), Smith similarly silhouetted the object against its surroundings-here a cloudy sky (fig. 23). Now the sculptor positioned his camera beneath the sculpture's base. He cropped the photograph where the sculpture and pedestal meet, an effect that delimits its spatial setting. Using a shallow depth of field, he heightened the contrast between the sharp edges of steel-amplified through light and shadow-and the blurred landscape and clouds behind it. The sculpture's parts are animated as a dramatic flurry. One bird lunges upward while the other falls toward the earth; both fight vigorously, a battle of beaks, feathers, and wings. Yet this tense movement is frozen in midair and the foes are suspended over the landscape, since the photograph is cropped at the object's base. No ground is supplied on which the sculpture can stand. The photograph presents an enthralling image of tension, a scene of grabbing, thrusting, reaching forms. Smith's photograph magnifies his sculpture's subject matter, setting in motion a commotion of wings.

 

In these experimental images of 1945, Smith found a way to translate the spatial complexity of his sculptures into a gripping pictorial image, jettisoning the conventions of the professional photographer's studio. His photographs dramatized his sculpture's pictorial content, pointing up the qualities of his sculpture that his critics most admired. Writing in 1947, Greenberg praised Smith's work as "linear, open, pictorial, rather than monolithic," defining the sculpture as optical and weightless.

In his landmark 1958 essay "Sculpture in Our Time," a revision of his 1949 "The New Sculpture," Greenberg went further, to argue that space "is to be shaped, divided, enclosed, but not to be filled or sealed in." The experience of the new constructed sculpture was one of opticality, as opposed to physical tactility. "Sculpture can confine itself to virtually two dimensions (as some of David Smith's pieces do)," he emphasized, "without being felt to violate the limitations of its medium, because the eye recognizes that what offers itself in two dimensions is actually (not palpably) fashioned in three." Line and shape were used not to indicate matter but to conjure the illusion of matter, which registered "optically like a mirage." While Greenberg was attuned to the material qualities of Smith's works-how they could appear as raw forms, for instance-he emphasized aspects of weightlessness and pictoriality, or how matter appeared to be immaterial, like an apparition.

In shots of Spectre of War and Cockfight, Smith points up-even dramatizes-these pictorial facets through low vantage points, unexpected cropping, shallow focus, and stark black-and-white contrasts, routing their "explosion" of imagery into two dimensions. In photographs like Cockfight, a heavy, industrial steel sculpture is envisioned as an ungrounded form, a soaring projection of avian combat.

"Heroic Abstraction"

The image of his sculpture that Smith developed in 1945 was disseminated widely by the AAUW exhibition-the enlarged photographs dramatized the pictorial qualities of his sculptures on a grand scale. Lura Beam, the exhibition's organizer, selected the photographs to include in the show. She included several taken by the photographers that Willard hired; Smith had specifically requested that she display Feininger's photograph of Headscrew and Growing Forms (see fig. 22). But the majority of images Beam chose were taken by the artist himself-his shots of Head as Still Life II, Aftermath Figure, and Classic Figure III (see figs. 18, 19, and 20) were exhibited,as were Spectre of War and Cockfight (seefigs. 21 and 23), and the latter two were also used in press materials for the show. Smith's photograph of Spectre of War was frequently used to illustrate reviews. A narrowly cropped version of Cockfight was featured as the sole photograph in the exhibition's flyer. Its triumphant and contrasting image of birds engaged in struggle became the exhibition's guiding sign.

Smith's photographs made it easier for Beam to manage a difficult subject matter: abstraction. She relied heavily on his images to introduce welded steel constructions to a rural audience accustomed to realism, or "the older landscape style," as Beam put it. Difficult to understand, and not so "loveable" as the carved "folk" sculpture by John Rood being circulated by the AAUW at the same moment, Smith's abstraction risked alienating the local communities, Beam repeatedly claimed. She seems to have used photographs to soothe a public unfamiliar with the "constantly shifting" masses or "new views of exploding energy" that Valentiner so admired. Smith's photographs made his sculpture more accessible, containing welded steel in a pictorial image.

In a letter to Marian Willard, Beam revealed as much, recounting how she began a talk to a Dallas audience, using the photographs to ease into the material: "So, though it hurt me to do it, I gave two talks in which I 'explained' the sculpture. I just walked around picking up one picture after another and then getting to the originals. . . . This was easily understood and brought some lively response." Beam hesitates to say that photography might explain or resolve Smith's sculpture, putting the term in quotation marks. Yet she kept her focus on Smith's images-not the seven sculptures included in the Dallas version of the show-implying that photography could convey more to an audience than sculptures themselves.

Beam leaned heavily on photographs like Cockfight, which presented a dramatizing image of sculptural form. Yet her emphasis differed from the sculptor's own. Her agenda was to market steel sculpture to a public unaccustomed to abstraction, and she relied on a mythologizing version of his work. Beam sold Smith's sculpture to the AAUW regional centers by focusing on its industrial materials, and she connected welded sculpture to "native labor," as she put it. In letters to organizers, and in her "Memorandum to the Branches," she cited steel's roots in manufacturing and tried, above all, to enlist a public of women who believed that metals were men's business. "This is going to be a very masculine event and the help of men is necessary. You must get a man who knows something about metals," Beam urged. And the community organizers complied. One wrote to Beam in 1947 that the superintendent of a Gary, Indiana, steel mill had spoken at the opening of the exhibition.

Beam also exhorted local organizers to give the exhibition spaces an industrial look. Her memo directed them to "take away from your exhibition room anything which has cozy domestic associations, for example chintz curtains and geraniums. After the exhibition is hung, try to arrange tall bouquets of bare brown tree or shrub branches, keeping to long lines." If Smith's sculpture was transformed by his dramatizing image, its physical, linear industrial look was replicated in the convention halls and community centers that became the exhibit's temporary homes.

Beam promoted Smith's abstraction by petitioning an audience that privileged welding as men's work, and she leaned heavily on the heroic images of sculpture that Smith himself produced. Where publicity was concerned, she constructed an image of Smith's sculpture that narrowed it to a single dramatizing shot. In her instructions to her printer, she described how the photograph of Cockfight chosen for the exhibition catalog's cover should mirror the experience of viewing Smith's sculpture: "The effect of a roomful of these works is tall, angular. . . . I have therefore come to think that cropping the illustration (being sure to leave all the base) to the shape that will go onto the attached dummy by bleeding . . . would express the spirit of the thing." Simplified, angular, compressed against a whitened page: the image of Cockfight summoned Smith's sculpture by tight framing. Steel would be referenced in concept only, in an isolated image of pictorial form.

Smith viewed the AAUW exhibition as a success. The show reached an audience of some twenty thousand in its first two years of circulation, according to the sculptor's notes. What is more, it reflected back to him the camera's instrumentality for displaying his sculpture, spurring Smith to lobby his dealer for more illustrations in catalogs and to purchase additional equipment, all in the name of publicity. But the AAUW exhibition also modeled what that display would look like, and what idiom it would take, by showing how sculpture could be represented as a commanding, heroic form.

If Smith was encouraged by the photographs he produced, others were less so. During the years the AAUW exhibition was circulating, at the very moment that his photographic style began to take off, the sculptor received a number of complaints about his photographs. The problem was that they refuted conventions of documentation by not presenting sculpture in a stabilizing, neutral field. His developer in Glens Falls, New York, weighed in. Responding to the artist's request for dodging a negative, he offered unsolicited advice about exposures and backgrounds:

Overexposure makes a flat negative. This "flatness" increases along with the density and the grain becomes increasingly pronounced. A good contrast is impossible to produce with this type negative and the background takes on a gray or muddy appearance.

For uniform results I would suggest that you make all exposures with artificial light and[,] since the bulk of your work is uniform in tone[,] make a note of your diaphragm setting and exposure time on all shots. . . .

You should also make a flat white background with the smoothest possible finish. Then when you place objects close to it for [the] purpose of obtaining clean cut shadows there would be no rough areas to show dark in the print. You see[,] to produce shadows to appear at an angle you have to light more from the side[,] and if [the] background is not smooth every little pimple or brush mark also casts a shadow[,] making [the] background look dirty.

If no shadows are desired[,] push [the] background a little farther back and flood it with light until shadows disappear.

In his criticism of the sculptor's photographs, the developer highlighted the very qualities that Smith aimed to point up: how a composition of flatness produced a series of pictorial contrasts. Not markers of the artist's lack of skill, these were tested facets of the sculptor's formalism or his use of photography as a representational medium.

Smith's dealer, Marian Willard, also complained about the photographs, which she claimed were not suitable for reproduction:

Glad to have the photos of new things and I like them very much. Have only one reaction and take it for what it is worth. The Oculus placed on the pedestal seems too disconnected from the base. It adds a formal note which doesn't seem to me to relate to the free forms of the piece. The aggressive character is fine and I would hate to have to cope with such.

One suggestion in taking the photos[,] which I am sure you know and perhaps cannot avoid-that is if they are to be used for reproduction it is bad to have any landscape forms appearing in the background. Many times pieces have been turned down when being considered because of that. True that sculpture in landscape is where it belongs, but the magazine boys and girls can't see it that way.

Several of the "magazine boys and girls" in question had told Willard that Smith's photographs were unacceptable for reproduction, requesting that his sculptures be rephotographed using a more neutral approach. Willard did not relay these complaints to the artist. Without going so far as to term them "bad" photographs, she called into question Smith's low vantage points and landscape backdrops, the two photographic tactics that he had worked to develop.

The sculptor ignored such pleas. He continued to take one-on-one photographs of his sculptures against the landscape, using natural lighting, but he left behind the dappled or skewed lighting. In what became his signature style, he often positioned works on a pedestal, milk crate, or other rudimentary support. He placed his camera underneath the sculpture's pedestal, presenting the object as a dark shape that was backlit and projected against a white sky. Using a piece of tape, or marking the photograph with his pencil, he indicated crop marks for his developer.

Copy prints from Smith's photographic archives are laden with lines drawn by hand or with the assistance of a ruler, as in his copy print of Pillar of Sunday (1945; fig. 24), or with a piece of tape, as in two copy prints of Bouquet of Concaves (1959; see figs. 34 and 35).In the shots of Bouquet of Concaves, Smith's masking tape blocks our view of the wire crate and the pile of materials scattered behind the base-a tactic that allows the sculpture no ground but suspends it above its surroundings, framing it as a set of dark shapes. Broadly speaking, Smith's crop lines have the effect of compressing space into the foreground, so that the sculpture seems weightless or groundless, disconnected from its spatial setting. A viewer is not invited to project herself into the picture plane, to imagine how the work carries an innate physical scale or a tactile surface, or how it spreads out in space. Isolated from its setting, the sculpture appears to hover unmoored.

 

In photographing Cockfight in 1945, Smith found a pictorial idiom for presenting his sculpture to a broad and diverse audience, one he repeated in one-on-one photographs of his sculptures in the 1950s and 1960s (see figs. 38, 39, and 91 and plates 36, 41, and 44). In these images, Smith presents his sculptures as upright, dominating structures-they are images that isolate and animate his work's pictorial content at the expense of spatial volume. In Smith's photograph of The Hero (1951-52), for instance, which he took shortly after the conclusion of the AAUW exhibition, the sculpture appears as a figure of contrast with its human-scaled landscape (plate 2). The Hero towers above its out-of-focus setting, an effect that results from the camera's low vantage point and the alignment of the sculpture's base with the lower edge of the image: owing to the narrow framing, the object is not given a spatial ground.

Nor does the photograph relay information about its densely textured and colored surface, bronze and steel material, or figural scale-information that is apparent in a museum photographer's shot of the work (plate 3). The museum photograph uses soft shadows to convey something about the sculpture's size and textured surface even as it also situates it within the nonspace of the photographer's studio. Smith's photograph, by contrast, distances the sculpture, eliminating tactile and spatial information. The Hero rises up from its pedestal, a powerful figural form distinct from its out-of-focus surroundings. Like Smith's photograph of Cockfight, his rendering of The Hero destabilizes our experience of the sculptural object as a three-dimensional thing; in the photograph, the sculptural vocabularies of space and volume are translated into a crisp silhouette, conjuring a picture of sculpture.

Compare Smith's photographic style to one used by the Italian photographer Ugo Mulas, who sought to relay the volumetric qualities of Smith's sculpture. Mulas photographed Smith's installation in Spoleto, Italy, in 1962 and was commissioned to document sculptures in Smith's Bolton Landing studio shortly after the artist's death in May 1965. Mulas's style resembles the sculptor's own in its adoption of a low vantage point and presentation of sculpture in an outdoor setting. But Mulas presented Smith's sculptures from up close and used a shallow depth of field. These tactics heighten attention to the fabricated surface of sculpture, calling attention to the rough-cut edge of steel or the painted brushstroke.

In a photograph of Suspended Cube (1938), Mulas displays the object in a three-quarter view with a crisp focus. Irregularities in the cut edge of the steel are visible; the painted surface of the suspended part looks broken and uneven (fig. 25). In Mulas's photograph, the object appears imposing, a quality relayed by the details of the image. Such closeness was not part of the photographic idiom Smith developed in the late 1940s, which presented his objects as distanced, flattened planes; they convey a pictorial image of detachment that is separate from the experience of encountering Smith's sculptures in the round.

 

Reviewing the New York exhibition in 1946, Edward Alden Jewell zeroed in on Smith's photograph of Cockfight, made available by the gallery for publicity. "The photograph of a heroic abstraction set up out of doors," he wrote, "suggests achievement more significant than any that the exhibition proper embraces." Jewell praised the photograph-not the work itself-calling attention to the image's qualities of heroism, of welded steel birds lifting off in a fight. Once again, Smith's photographs are praised for expressing something a spatial encounter with his three-dimensional objects might not: in the artist's photograph, Cockfight becomes a figure of weightlessness, of heroic victory.

Pictorial Photography

Smith's photographs of Cockfight, Hero, and many others frame a pictorial encounter with sculpture by flattening the sculptural object to a plane or by designating a low vantage point to magnify its scale-tactics the sculptor developed in the 1940s. His photographs elide a sculpture's material surfaces-which might be dense with puddles of welding material, contain shorn edges of steel, or exhibit irregularities in how their chemical finishes were applied. The photographs also compress spatial dimensionality into a single plane. Viewers are encouraged to envision sculpture as a dramatic image, a weightless specter, or a monumentalized form come to life.

In using his camera to direct a pictorial encounter with objects, Smith joined other modern sculptors who similarly deployed photography to activate a site of beholding, as Harry Cooper has described Medardo Rosso's photography. Cooper observes how Rosso's photographs elicit an absorptive state analogous to the one Michael Fried located in Courbet's canvases: the photographs situate beholders in the artist's stance and embody them. "Only photographs of sculpture could impose a specific viewpoint," Cooper writes, and "construct a site at which the sculptor-beholder could coalesce before the work and from which he or she could then be absorbed into it." In Rosso's narrowly framed photographs, which assign a close point of view, the viewer is drawn into the sculptural object, and its subject is animated pictorially.

Rosso was among the earliest sculptors to employ technologies of photographic reproduction to publicize his sculpture. Beginning in the 1880s, he published his own photographs as postcards announcing his exhibitions, and his photographs appeared as illustrations in exhibition catalogs, newspapers, and journals. Rosso also exhibited his photographs alongside his sculptures, testament to the value he placed on them as works of art. The sculptor was adamant that his own photographs-neither altered nor retouched-be used in publications. In a series of letters he wrote to the painter and art critic Carlo Carrà in 1926, Rosso insisted on complete control over the illustrations that were to be used in an upcoming article, commanding, "In short, I cannot allow other photographs to be taken. I want those of mine and no others. I also believe these are the best. I don't want any others. Thank the director (I don't know his name) thank him. I don't want, desire any others. Also thank the photographer. But I don't want his, I want only my own."

Rosso's statements anticipate the famous control Brancusi maintained over photographic representations of his work. Visitors to Brancusi's studio on the Impasse Ronsin were required to observe an injunction that the artist never tired of repeating: no one but the sculptor himself was to photograph his work. As Brassaï complained, requests to document his objects were refused, and those who tried to photograph them anyway were thrown out. Even those who attempted to edit Brancusi's own photographs in reproduction-by silhouetting his objects, for example-were reprimanded. Such mandates served a purpose. In maintaining aesthetic control over publicity, both Rosso and Brancusi were acknowledging the photograph's specific power to structure a mode of viewing. As was the case for Smith, the camera was an extension of their studio practices, a tool no less important to the sculptural process than the hammer, torch, or chisel.

For Rosso, the camera could carefully construct a visual encounter by framing and reframing objects. He often rephotographed his photographs by pinning the source image to a wall, leaving the pinhole visible in the second print. In one series he rephotographed a photograph of Aetas Aurea (1887) numerous times-these photographs are the starting point for Cooper's argument (figs. 26 and 27). Each secondary photograph uses exposure and framing to alter the original image. In some, the child's face is illuminated while the mother's is darkened; in others the secondary print is magnified and cropped, the original's surrounding details eliminated. When cropping his photographs, Rosso often used unexpected angles and jarring lines, testing out different compositional configurations. These strategies yielded new pictorial images as the sculptural object was reconfigured through a diverse array of framing and lighting techniques. As Sharon Hecker and Paola Mola have separately observed, Rosso's use of photographic reproduction follows his employment of casting in his sculptural practice: both mechanisms of copying ultimately produced wholly new works, shifting expectations for stability and permanence.

 

Vantage point also played a central role in Rosso's photography. In one of the photographs of Aetas Aurea, he assumes an up-close and intimate point of view by cropping and magnifying the original print (see fig. 27). When viewed alongside others in the series, the photographs progressively zoom in on the sculpture, drawing the beholder into a lively visual encounter. This tightly framed image-which also contains dark marks from the developing process on the left edge-leaves out extraneous detail. By cutting the background of the upper right, for instance, Rosso excluded a view of the object's upper flange, which he left visible in several other prints. The photograph eliminates the sculpture's boundaries and edges, deceiving viewers into thinking they are seeing an animated scene of a mother and child, rather than a sculpture. What is more, the picture places the viewer in the vantage point of the mother, who is herself cropped from view, looking down on the child. As Rosso increasingly restricts the frame, the beholder is incorporated into the work; drawn into the scene, he or she is invited to inhabit and embody the sculpture's space.

Rosso's photographs pictorialize the sculptures they present, transforming a material object into an enlivened scene. His images share much in common with Smith's-low vantage points and unexpected cropping techniques are two of the strategies behind the dramatizing photographs of Cockfight and The Hero, for instance. Both artists also used photography to activate a beholder's encounter, shifting the material dimensions of sculpture by construing it as intimate or monumental.

Henry Moore, too, exploited the camera's vantage point to reenvision his sculptures. In the late 1930s he began to photograph his sculptures outside his studio in Burcroft, Kent, and his photographs were published widely in the ensuing years. As Elizabeth Brown has written, Moore experimented with vantage point to arrange a "wholly new and different composition" with every shot. Scale, too, was something that could be altered through vantage point, Moore learned. A photograph of Reclining Figure (1938) presents the sculpture on a flat, even plane, behind it a sloping field and woods (fig. 28). The sculpted body-its head impaled and empty-coheres around a curved, crescent-shaped torso, which casts a series of ground shadows. Envisioned from a low point of view, the work is structured in direct relation to its landscape surroundings with no base or intermediary plinth. Reclining Figure's sprawling, massive body merges with the English landscape, appearing innate to it.

 

A second photograph, however, shows Moore's magnification at work (fig. 29).Reclining Figure's massiveness dwindles to the scale of a table's wood grain: to thirteen inches in length, to be precise. While the second shot substantiates the sculpture's size, the first photograph dramatizes the object's magnitude, summoning notions of sculptural presence in the process. With the illusion of scale provided by the photograph, Reclining Figure seems monumental, an integral part of its surrounding pastoral setting. In 1964 Moore reflected on the camera's distortion of objects, observing how "a small sculpture only three or four inches big can have about it a monumental scale, so that if you photographed it against a blank wall in which you had nothing to refer it to but only itself-or you photographed it against the sky against infinite distance-a small thing only a few inches big might seem, if it has a monumental scale, to be any size." Moore notes that a dramatization of a sculpture's scale depends on the landscape setting. Seen against a contextual setting, a small object could be enlivened to seem massive, human-sized.

 

In anticipation of his works' installation in the Forte di Belvedere, Florence, in 1972, Moore again used his camera to strategically resize his work. Photographing small sculptures and maquettes of his final sculptures, Moore used color slide transparencies, a photographic medium that is itself capable of enlargement in the projector, to measure his sculpture against the architectural monuments of Florence. Moore created an elaborate setup to map out the installation, positioning the maquettes in front of a reproduction of the city, seen from the rooftop of the Forte di Belvedere, the site of his show (plates 4 and 5). He illuminated the scene artificially and rotated the objects to capture a range of views. Pictured from a low angle, Maquette for Large Torso: Arch is imagined as towering over Brunelleschi's dome; it is naturalized in its Florentine setting (see plate 5). Moore took these photographs as aids to the process of staging large-scale sculpture; yet they carry a fantasy of sculpture's permanence and solidity that is based on the camera's ability to magnify a sculpture's size. In Moore's imaginings, maquettes are transformed into monumental sculptures-stable, enduring forms that are to be measured against a storied European civic setting. Using his camera, which is capable of bridging the gap between size and scale, Moore summons notions of monumentality without actually engaging a monumental sculpture.

In using the camera to animate and transform their sculptures, Rosso, Smith, and Moore were participating in a dialogue central to modernism about the role of vantage point in the perception of sculpture, an issue Adolf von Hildebrand took up in The Problem of Form (1893). His text offered a solution to what he and others held was the awkward and contingent visual encounter of objects in three dimensions-in his words, the "unfinished and uncomfortable frame of mind" that arises in spatial perception. Looking for a way to alleviate the contingencies of bodily viewing, Hildebrand turned to the Kantian theories of Hermann von Helmholtz, for whom perceiving meant comparing new optical data with old to identify or synthesize an object-thus, as one critic has put it, "subsuming the phenomenal singularity of its aspects under a general intellectual concept." The Problem of Form aimed to shorten this synthetic process; the viewer would be presented with an object that already cohered as an epistemological model when seen from a frontal point of view. In its planar, two-dimensional organization, relief sculpture represented for Hildebrand a totalized and synthesized image of what would otherwise be mere kinesthetic irregularity. Real space would be "secured" and "stabilized" as a pictorial image oriented to the viewer, who would encounter the work from the idealized and fixed point of view.

In a two-part essay published in German in 1896 and 1897, Hildebrand's friend and colleague Heinrich Wölfflin built on this model of sculptural idealism to analyze how photography could further stabilize sculpture. In his essay "How One Should Photograph Sculpture," he took issue with the late nineteenth century's surge of art reproductions and came to grips with photography as a layer of mediation. Wölfflin argued that the contingencies of real space required stabilizing not only in an idealized sculptural form but also in its photographic reproduction, which would orient a beholder to the sculpture's harmonious point of view. He critiqued what he saw as an overabundance of photographs taken from an oblique point of view-a vantage point that misread sculpture:

The public buys these photographs in good faith, [believing] that with a mechanically-made illustration nothing of the original could be lost; it does not know that an old [historic] figure has a particular main view, that one destroys its effectiveness when one takes away its main silhouette; without batting an eye, present-day people allow their uncultivated eyes to put up with the most disagreeable overlaps and lack of clarity. . . . However, [a work made in] the good [old] tradition provides one main view, and the educated eye feels it is a virtue that here the figure explains itself all at once and becomes completely understandable, so that one is not driven around it in order to grasp its content, but rather that it informs the beholder about its viewpoint right from the start. Whosoever wants to instruct himself about such matters should read the relevant section in Adolf Hildebrand's Problem der Form.

Wölfflin's essay argues for a definition of the photography of sculpture that hinges on vantage point. Because a sculpture could appear as many different things when seen from disparate points of view, the photographer would need to match the perspicuous alignment of the object. From this principal, frontal orientation, he claimed, the object would cohere effortlessly as a harmonious image, a pictorial contour, or "silhouette."

In his essays Wölfflin compared photographs taken of the same sculpture, juxtaposing those lacking the ideal point of view with those skilled images that achieved it. He contrasts two reproductions of Verrocchio's David-one depicting a plaster cast, and the other, the bronze original. An Alinari photograph presents an incoherent image of the bronze because it was taken from an oblique vantage point located slightly above the sculpture's base. The relationship between the feet is illegible; the arms appear in different spatial planes. A photograph by an unidentified photographer of the plaster cast, by contrast, resolved this spatial awkwardness. In it the vantage point is lower and the work is presented frontally, yielding an image Wölfflin described as heroic and victorious. "What liveliness is gained by the contour!" he exclaimed; David's limbs now appear ordered, their relationships to one another visible.

Describing two reproductions of the Apollo Belvedere-an engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi and a photograph by the Bruckmann firm-Wölfflin preferred the engraving for its ability to direct viewers to the sculpture's principal point of view. Whereas the photograph, taken from well above the base, made the figure appear "insecure, brittle, [and] disturbing," Raimondi's engraving synthesizes the sculpture at the level of the sculpture's feet, relaying its secure and tranquil stance. "All at once," Wölfflin observed of the print, "the torso gains an undreamt of power, vertically and horizontally, chest and arm are set in sharp contrast against one another, and the flaccid contours of the first view [the Bruckmann photograph] are suddenly full of life and energy in every particle."

Wölfflin's essays recognize the ways in which photographs isolate a single view of a three-dimensional sculpture. In his account, the camera either summons an idealizing encounter with sculpture by matching the "correct" vantage point or presents the object as a spatially awkward form. When it grasps the frontal plane of the sculpture, Wölfflin argues, the object coheres as an animated picture-it is a victorious and heroic body, an idealized picture that matches an idealized form.

Like Wölfflin, Smith knew that a photograph could marshal the contingencies of three-dimensional viewing in a planar image, a silhouette. Look again at how a welded steel sculpture such as Cockfight hovers above its surroundings when pictured from a vantage point below the pedestal (see fig. 23). The contrast between sculpture and backdrop is heightened by a narrow focus, which dramatizes the differences between the sculpture's angular cut parts and the soft, blurry forms of the landscape. Flattened to two dimensions and cropped from the ground, the sculpture is suspended in midair-in a flattened projection.

But Smith was also keenly attuned to how photography skewed or remade his sculpture. The sculptor repudiated the model of sculptural idealism espoused by Wölfflin and Hildebrand by creating objects that entailed many different, incompatible "fronts." His objects embrace the contingencies of three-dimensional viewing by rejecting frontality, or the idea that a sculpture has a principal alignment. And his photographs followed suit: even as they summon sculptural form in an image, they also destabilize or distort his objects by presenting independent images.

What was for Wölfflin ultimately a stabilizing framework-used correctly, the photograph would fix and frame an ideal form-was for Smith and other modern sculptors a way to further upend and transform objects that rethought sculptural idealism. The photographs taken by Rosso, Moore, and Smith are not surfaces that match up seamlessly with a sculptural plane or front. They are images that capitalize on the arbitrariness of vantage point. These artists' photographs unsettle sculpture, suggesting different definitions of objects made contingent and fragmentary through light and movement, animated by the camera's frame as a pictorial form, or monumentalized through a trick of scale. As Rosso's increasingly closer frames of Ateas Aurea acknowledge, or as Moore's two shots of Reclining Figure underscore, a photograph can activate several different encounters with sculpture, altering the object at each click of the shutter. These photographs do not stabilize sculptural dimensionality by capturing it from a particular vantage point, as Wölfflin would have it; instead, they fluster expectations about totality by presenting a range of different and destabilizing views.

In Smith's photographs, the physical materiality of his work is reshaped, something the sculptor himself was keenly aware of. The acknowledgment came in a discussion of his photograph of Oculus (1947), a sculpture whose title references the eye. The work is composed of four steel vignettes suspended from a horizontal piece of cut metal that is balanced on a vertical pedestal, which stands atop a wooden base. Smith completed the sculpture in December 1947 and photographed it that month (fig. 30). Oculus seems superimposed on its out-of-focus backdrop. Its horizontal bar meets the top of a mountain range, yet the two forms are separated by a gulf of frozen water, above which Oculus is perched. Smith used a vantage point oriented to the base of the pillar, along with a shallow depth of field. In a copy print, he drew his crop mark between the pillar and the wooden base, so that the sculpture seems dislodged from its surroundings-the sliver of base the barest indicator of a ground.

 

To make this photograph, Smith brought the sculpture down the hill from his studio, propping it on a group of pilings at the edge of a snow-covered dock overlooking Lake George. This much we can tell from a negative found on an undeveloped roll of film, whose photographer is unknown (fig. 31). Knees bent, feet lodged in the snow, Smith leans down behind the tripod, his hulking body crouching so that his eye can meet the viewfinder. He fits himself into the apparatus of the camera. A jacket covering his head serves as an improvised hood, blocking the light.

 

Smith took five other photographs of Oculus, in his sculpture workshop, in the fields outside his studio, and on the dock. But it was this photograph-with its meticulous composition in which the abstract steel sculpture touched the top of a mountain landscape-that he sent to his dealer, Marion Willard, in New York (see fig. 30). Her response came in a letter, and it was not approving. She quipped that the sculpture seemed "disconnected from its base." Smith responded hastily, explaining his depiction: "Oculus base was meant to be disconnected from the base [sic], hence the unusual elevation. The sculpture part takes place at eye level. The photo takes place under eye level." With these sentences, Smith describes how his photographs elicit an encounter with his sculpture that differs from the encounter experienced when viewing the sculpture from an embodied vantage point, or the "eye level" view through which sculpture would be seen as a "free form" in its spatial setting. The photograph, by contrast, structured an encounter that takes place beneath standing height-a view that Smith had to crouch down to obtain and which was structured by the mobile device of the camera. Seen photographically, the sculpture would look different than it did in the round-it would be disconnected from its surroundings, a dematerialized projection.

Smith's language underscores the importance of vantage point for the process of pictorialization. Unlike Wölfflin, who argued that the camera's vantage point should remediate the contingencies of viewing in the round by matching the frontal view, Smith and other modern sculptors seized on the arbitrariness of vantage point to further destabilize sculpture. If, for Rosso, vantage point could activate a provisional and intimate glimpse of a scene, and for Moore it could magnify and amplify his sculpted bodies, for Smith it could further distance and detach the object, construing it as a flattened plane. Seeing sculpture in a photograph and in the round were two separate things. These artists used the camera not as a neutral technology of vision-their aim was not to "bring things closer" in a reproducible copy, the possibility of mechanical reproduction Walter Benjamin outlined in 1931, describing the camera's ability to "get hold of" the objects of its gaze. Rather they unsettled those objects by refusing to fix them in a single, reproducible image. For Smith, the photograph would be a way to dissociate his objects in a pictorial projection.

In the AAUW exhibition, Smith developed a model for photographing his objects one-on-one that he would continue to pursue until his death. Although the artist would supplement this approach with other photographic modes-by presenting his sculptures in groups or using a higher vantage point to depict his painted objects-this model would become synonymous with his sculpture, and it influenced his public's reception of his sculpture. For Smith, photography was a public display of his objects-capable of circulating them widely-but it was also much more than this: it was a way to transform and reinvent his objects. Seen photographically, his sculpture is envisioned as a separate, autonomous plane detached from its surroundings. This transformation, this mediation, raises questions about some of the most foundational narratives of his objects.

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