Artists often take on the challenge of trying to convey the absence of something. I am no different in this respect, for my work frequently wrestles with the notion of memory, which is inherently fleeting and notoriously changeable as time passes. My Tears of Stone project set out to convey the enormity of loss in the massive number of casualties in World War 1, without actually showing people grieving. So I was instantly intrigued by Michael Somoroff's work "Absence of Subject". Somoroff carefully chose certain images by German photographer August Sander to work with and created a body of work that is visually arresting and thought-provoking. Sander was most famous for his body of work titled "People of the 20th Century", a collective portrait of the German people from all walks of life taken during the Weimar Republic.
In each of Sanders' images (seen in these images on the left), Somoroff has digitally erased the human subject(s) originally found in them, leaving only the background and surroundings for the viewer to contemplate.
Because these photographs are shown together, the viewer immediately compares the two and is asked to engage with the issue of "subject".
How important is the human subject to our reading of this photograph? What happens to the meaning of the photograph when that subject is erased? What is lost or gained through this manipulation? Is familiarity with Sanders' work important to understanding Somoroff's? Does the fact that Sanders' photographs were taken in the 1910's-30's inform our reading of this very contemporary treatment of them? I love it when artwork provokes questions like these!