History of Photography vol:37 issue:4 pages:445-458
This article focusses on in situ photography of public sculpture as used on belle époque picture postcards of Brussels. The subject is approached from a dual angle. First, the proper conventions of the in situ photography of public sculpture as a genre are examined in the light of its reliance on traditional photographic and painterly visual traditions, as well as on novel genres like amateur and snapshot photography. Second, we look at whether the photographic mise-en-scène to be found on picture postcards of public statues demonstrates a particular perspective on the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century public monument and cityscape. The close analysis of a selection of picture postcards demonstrates that (1) the in situ photography of urban statues for picture postcards can be regarded as a photographic genre in its own right, lying at the intersection of documentary art reproduction practices (e.g., a preference of plain backgrounds) and amateur photography of the city (e.g., snapshot features such as the chance presence of passers-by and carriages). Moreover, (2) the picture postcards under discussion confirm and propagate dominant discourses on the monument and the cityscape, even if at the same time such visions were challenged. In the case of Brussels, the picture postcards demonstrate a preference for a monumental, impressive cityscape, worthy of representing the nation and at the same time legitimising it, and a preference for views of sculpture as a grand art, serving the worship of grands hommes. With this article, the authors are contribution to the recent scholarship on in situ photography of public sculpture as well as to research on picture postcards as an aesthetical and cultural phenomenon.