Like many of the works in New Photography 2009, Sara VanDerBeek’s photographs are made entirely in the studio. She collects pictures from various sources, including art history books, archives, magazines, and newspapers, and incorporates them into sculptures that are made only to be photographed. After Sara photographs her sculptures, they are immediately dismantled, and her picture is the only remaining evidence of the temporary structure.
I like to think of her works as picture puzzles. The space of the sculpture becomes flattened when she photographs it, so that the images incorporated into her structures appear collaged. A careful viewer will see the clues (shadows of the sculpture, for instance) and begin to unpack the complex space that the artist has built. There are also a number of found images embedded in her compositions that may be familiar to viewers, such as Tina Modotti’s Staircase (1924–26) or a photograph of Alberto Giacometti’s bronze Head of a Man on a Rod (1947), both in MoMA’s collection. Through such references, she explores the symbolism of individual images and the cultural connections between them.
In this interview, Sara talks about creating a work to reflect our current economic climate. Sara’s four-part photograph A Composition for Detroit is an ode to Motor City. She discusses some of her inspirations, including the now iconic 1941 book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, with text by writer James Agee and photographs by Walker Evans. Their collaboration was a poetic and intimate exploration of the conditions and realities of Depression-era tenant farmers, intended, as stated by Agee in the preface, as “an inquiry into certain normal predicaments of human divinity.” Sara’s deep interest in the history of images provides a unique point of view on how photographs function in our image-saturated world.