In the photographs God, the Eighth Day (1937), The Shadow and Its Shadow (1932), and the Fowler (1942), Rene Magritte makes use of the photographic frame to explore themes of self-representation and identity. It is interesting to see the implementation of Surrealist ideas in the medium of photography and how it adds another layer of complexity in the works. Furthermore, many of these photographs would serve as visual aids for some of Magritte’s paintings.
In God, the Eight Day, Magritte himself poses holding a painting that obscures his body, with a cloth that is draped over his face and back. The paradox of anonymity and self-representation are important in how the artist chooses to frame himself for the viewer. By way of this surreptitious self-portraiture, Magritte is able to portray himself as defined solely by his art, without identifying with distinguishable human characteristic of the body. This was later evidenced in an indirect way in the Man Ray portrait of Magritte in front of a painting that was based upon this photograph. Additionally, the cloth that is draped over the artist is reminiscent of a cloth that photographers would use, which serves to frame Magritte in the context of being a photographer and not only a painter.
In The Shadow and its Shadow, Magritte poses with his wife, Georgette; with the artist behind her with their eyes aligning and that the viewer only sees one of Magritte’s eyes. This work frames the artist in the context of marital intimacy. Here we see the union of the two people in such a way, as the title references, that they are not only each other’s shadow but also the shadow of his or her shadow. Though Magritte was often skeptical of the world, he did see love embodying an indestructible quality, stating, “One cannot destroy love. I believe in its ultimate triumph”.
In The Fowler, Magritte is yet again portrayed in the photograph, this time he is shown staring pensively at his own reflected mirror image in a glass door. Here, Magritte shows himself framed within the glass door that bears his reflection. By showing himself in this context, Magritte frames himself within his paintings by way of the artistic motif of the multiple. By incorporating a motif from his paintings into this photographic self-portrait, Magritte is further expanding the framing of himself by way of his own art.
In these photographs, framing, especially that of self-representation, is a pervasive theme that defines how Magritte uses photography as self-documentation. Working within this medium, the ways in which Magritte uses photography to replicate some of the motifs from his paintings is inventive and shows the extraordinary prolific quality of works present in Magritte’s oeuvre.
By Piotr Pillardy, Class of 2015