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Luis Camnitzer

Handheld Clouds and Inflatable Tanks

German-born Uruguayan artist Luis Camnitzer created the above photograph, The Discovery of Geometry, in 1978, exploring the relationship between reality and perception.

Ghost Army

This second photography, taken by an unknown photographer, portrays a secret U.S. Army unit in World War II that made hundreds of inflatable tanks and other devices of illusion to deceive the Nazis about the size and position of U.S. forces.

I believe these two images are related by more than the coincidence that they both show human hands holding volumes of air.

To begin, they are both directly related to art.

According to documentary filmmaker Rick Beyer, the secret U.S. Army unit, known as the Ghost Army, was made up of artists, designers, sound technicians, makeup artists, and photographers. It included, among others, future clothing designer Bill Blass, painter Ellsworth Kelly and photographer Art Kane. They were artists called upon to make their art useful.

Luis Camnitzer’s photograph locates the exact opposite end of the spectrum of art: its ethereal side. In fact, the Discovery of Geometry can be seen as not just a work of art but the very symbolization of art. A handheld cloud suggests the ability to grasp the ungraspable, which can be understood as the aim of every artistic enterprise.

Though they represent opposite ideas of art, both photographs say something about how art, like energy, demonstrates a capacity to do work.

How can a hand hold a cloud? Well, it can’t, except through photography. It is image-making that tricks the eye about real distances.

Art served the same deceptive purpose for the artist-soldiers, who used art to turn the real size and location of the U.S. Army into something obscure — something ungraspable.

Together, the two images demonstrate that a play of the imagination is a matter of real work.

 

 

Top: Luis Camnitzer, The Discovery of Geometry, 1978, Silver Gelatin Photograph (11h x 14w in.) Courtesy of Alexander Gray Associates.

Bottom: Courtesy Of Rick Beyer, Hatcher Graduate Library.

 

 

 

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