Related Events

Special Tour with Randy Lee Cutler
Tuesday, March 13 at 7pm
in the Gallery

Free with Gallery admission
Artist and educator Randy Lee Cutler investigates performance, artifice and the body in Acting the Part.

Past Exhibitions

Acting the Part: Photography as Theatre

February 3 to May 21, 2007

The Coffee Drinkers
Paul Outerbridge, Jr.
The Coffee Drinkers, circa 1939
carbro colour print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
New York, The Ford Motor Company
Collection, Gift of Ford Motor
Company and John C. Waddell, 1987



Even as early as 1840, the French photographer Hippolyte Bayard was acting, playing the role of a drowned man, for one of his salted paper photographic prints. By the mid-1850s, many photographers were staging more elaborate scenes, with O.G. Rejlanders's now famous Two Ways of Life being one of the most ambitious.

The practice of "staging" photographs continued into the 20th century, a century otherwise dominated by the rise of "straight" photography and the ascendance of the documentary photographer. Pictorialist photographers William Mortensen and Harold Kells used themes from literature and history as a way to showcase their photographic nudes.

In the 1940s and 1950s, the staged photograph became an important tool in the world of advertising. Duane Michaels took the genre in a new direction in the 1960s when he posed with models in dramatic narratives that explored such "un-photographable" subjects as love and death.

Contemporary photographers Yasumasa Morimura, Wang Quingsong and others have used the staged photograph to probe issues of sexual and cultural identity, while others blend advertising and art history into arresting social portraits. Notable among them is Vancouverite Jeff Wall, who was one of the first artists in the late seventies to produce staged scenes of modern life as large-scale backlit transparencies that reference 19th century painting and 20th century advertising. He has continued to deploy elaborate staging in what he refers to as "cinematography."

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