ICONS – Works by Jojakim Cortis and Adrian Sonderegger

Trawling through books filled with history’s most memorable photographs, the Swiss photography duo used optical tricks to reproduce what might seem impossible to duplicate – a series of moments that are now remembered as the most influential photographs ever taken, ones now credited with resulting in new creative and political movements or rebellions.
© Cortis and Sonderegger, from the series Icons, Making of 208-N-43888_by Charles Levy, 1945_2013
Cortis, born in 1978, and Sonderegger, born 1980, have lived and worked in Zurich, Switzerland since 2001, and began collaborating during their studies at Zurich University of the Arts in 2005.
Carefully considering the conditions in which each original image was made, the artists mimicked the same methods in their studio, using scale models and paying close attention to the lighting and vantage point of the camera. It was, they say, “an attempt to literally ‘re-make’ these events.”
©Cortis and Sonderegger, Icons - making of Nessie_by Marmaduke Wetherell, 1934_ 2013
Re-made images include the crash of the Hindenburg, the downing of the supersonic passenger jet Concorde, to the last photographic of the Titanic and the raising of the American flag on the Pacific Island of Iwo Jima during the fight with the Japanese during the end days of the Second World War.
The pair also recreated significant moments in the history of photography, remaking images by Man Ray, Ansel Adams and Andreas Gursky.
© Cortis and Sonderegger, from the series, Icons - Making of Five Soldiers Silhouette at the Battle of Broodseinde_ by Ernest Brooks, 1917_2013
In their final compositions, Cortis and Sonderegger pull the camera back to reveal their studio and working methods exposing the backstage, the ‘making of’ aspect of their craft.
By including the debris of their constructions (paint, glue, cotton wool, etc.) the artists present an image within an image. It is, they say, an attempt “to leave the viewer unbalanced between the remake of the past and the studio environment of the present.”
This is, they say, motivated by a willingness to “outwit and question the documentary aspect of photography.”
As such, they value completely transparent photographs, using Photoshop only to adjust contrast.
© Cortis and Sonderegger, from the series, Icons, Making of 9:11_by John Del Giorno, 2001_ 2013
For them, these Icons are straightforward studio productions and not digital compositions; the inner image is the historical moment, while the outer background makes a snapshot of the present.
I doing so, “we want to fully expose the staging process,” they say, “in order to raise questions in the mind of their audience about the temporal nature of experience and memory.”

In an extended interview with cultural and visual theorist Dr. Fritz Franz Vogel, for the essay Photographic Still Lifes and Other Simulations of Reality, Sonderegger said of the pair’s work:
“We don’t have a catalogue of criteria. We work with a few books that depict history’s most iconic photographs. Then we choose images that firstly typify an event, and are recognisable to the potential viewer.
©Cortis and Sonderegger from the series Icons, Making of AS11-40-5878_by Edwin Aldrin, 1969_2014
“What is also important is that the scene is feasible in photographic terms. This means we choose scenes with few identifiable people in them; instead, we select static, or at the very least powerful, photographic moments.
Thirdly, we always try to act as visual sleuths by using optical tricks to reproduce what seems irreproducible. So, we like to challenge ourselves in the creation of the images.
© Cortis and Sonderegger, from the series, Icons - Making of Concorde_by Toshihko Sato, 2000_ 2013
“Photography is a way of seeing, and this mostly comes from outside. Even with our first image in the series, which is also the very first image in the historiography of photography – the view from Nicéphore Niépce’s study, which was made in 1826 – we restaged this view and thought about how this picture came into being in the first place: what the conditions must have been like, the camera technique, lighting, and so on, so that exactly this picture (which, incidentally, was manipulated to a great extent afterwards) was created.”
Icons runs until Thursday 26 May at East Wing Gallery. Find out more.
For more information on Cortis & Sonderegger visit here.
Tom Seymour

Tom Seymour is an Associate Editor at The Art Newspaper and an Associate Lecturer at London College of Communication. His words have been published in The Guardian, The Observer, The New York Times, Financial Times, Wallpaper* and The Telegraph. He has won Writer of the Year and Specialist Writer of the year on three separate occassions at the PPA Awards for his work with The Royal Photographic Society.