16. August 2005
McGill-Queen's University Press
Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal 2005
Petra Halkes, Gottfried Helnwein’s American Prayer: A Fable in Pixels and Paint.
Edited by Martha Langford
Image & Imagination
A richly illustrated exploration of the imagination in photography featuring the work of over sixty international artists.
Photography and reality are inextricably linked but, whether one is being photographed, making a photograph, or looking at a photograph, photography is an act of the imagination. In nine original essays, art historians and cultural theorists break with photographic tradition to explore the crucial role of the imagination in photography from nineteenth-century studio portraiture to twenty-first-century digital innovations.
Drawing on the twenty-nine exhibitions of Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal 2005, Image & Imagination features the work of sixty contemporary artists from Canada, Australia, the United States, France, England, Haiti, and Japan.
Essayists include Geoffrey Batchen (City University of New York), Catherine Bédard (Canadian Cultural Centre, Paris), Fae Brauer (University of New South Wales), Francine Dagenais (McGill University), Martyn Jolly (Australian National University), Petra Halkes (Concordia University), Martha Langford (Concordia University), Kirsty Robertson (Queen's University), and Ian Walker (University of Wales College).
Petra Halkes
Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Gottfried Helnwein’s American Prayer: A Fable in Pixels and Paint.
Born in 1948 in Vienna, Helnwein’s career spans more than three decades. He lives and works in Los Angeles and has a home base in Ireland as well.
His art ranges from the macabre to the sublime. Figures, dead or alive, predominate in large groups and smaller encounters. There are many singular figures and portraits of celebrities and others, as well as self portraits. There are also land- and cityscapes, magazine and CD covers, installations and set designs.
One theme returns often: "The Child," which was also the title of Helnwein’s first major museum solo show in in North America (San Francisco Fine Arts Museum, 2004).
Photographing and painting children, sometimes adored, more often traumatized or injured, threatened or witnessing violence, the artist appears possessed by the suffering that childhood’s particular vulnerability can engender.

by Petra Halkes
I began to discover a semiotic richness in this painting worthy of what W.J.T. Mitchell has
called a “metapicture” - a “picture that [is] used to show what a picture is.” Mitchell situates
the concept of metapicture in “’iconology,’ the study of the general field of images and their
relation to discourse,” thereby cutting across Greenbergian self-reflexivity into an expanded
context that includes popular culture as well as contemporary art. In this wider cultural
field, a metapicture does more than reflect on the nature of the picture itself and calls into
question “the self-understanding of the observer.”_ I will argue that American Prayer derives
its theoretical relevance partly from its concealed hybridity, from the interplay between
technological media and painting. In this work, the substitution of one medium by another
reinforces the meaning that can be created from the iconographic substitution of the child by
Pinocchio, and the replacement of the deity by Donald. In the end, Donald’s sideways glance
at us indicates that this picture is really about us, the observers; it questions our own place in
a cultural web of illusionism spun from the abiding human desire to overcome death...
Review quotes
"This impressive and original book offers a new take on photo-imagery and the photo-imaginary." Liz Wells, editor, Photography: A Critical Introduction and The Photography Reader
"A fascinating exploration of visual culture and the imagination. The essays form a lively and beautifully written discussion about the private life of images within the mind of the viewer." Carol Payne, School for Studies in Art and Culture, Carleton University
Martha Langford
is assistant professor, art history, Concordia University, author of Suspended Conversations: The Afterlife of Memory in Photographic Albums, and artistic director of Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal 2005.

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