by Mark Erickson
"The Book of Appropriated Portraits" started simply: It started with a moth.
A small sun-seared and dry-to-the-bone moth high up on a window ledge above an old metal door that leads you into the subdued lit darkness of a painting studio. The nearly skeletal creature
turning to dust having been up there on that window sill for years out of sight till it was brought down with care and inevitably photographed. One thing leads to another and the moth became
the beginning, part of Birgit Zartl's digital collage, 'Moth Girl.'
She went onto the next piece quite easily and then the next, and a series began to materialize with the appropriate title of "The Appropriated Portraits." Delightfully grim and often quite eerie.
What you will experience here are extracted mementos from 19th and 20th century Pop Art and brought up to date with a touch of controlled distortion and a delectable warped evil twist.
Birgit's manipulated, tweaked, and somewhat tortured images spread one to the other, making them like playing cards you can't help keep in your consciousness, knowing that you are holding four aces. Her plan to create 30 collages for this book took the better part of four months. An endeavor well spent.
Chosen as templates for her unique collages were family collected 'carte de visite' and 'cabinet cards.' Popular in the mid/late 1800s to the 1920s both in Europe and America, these
thin photographs mounted on a thick card stock were perfect material to express these distinct portraits. Studio photographers placed their subjects in front of realistic backdrops often depicting nature scenes or abstracted vistas. Then held there forever, frozen in one single photograph.
There is no denying the twisted humor in the final works, as if Peter Joel Witkin took part in his family reunion. Aunts, uncles and grandparents all standing or sitting, held together in a Boschian stew. You might wonder who these people are, where they come from and what became of them. Best not to. It is not important, as they have been transported to another realm and what befalls them here is sheer startling amusement.
It started with a moth and ended with the girl, the rest is here for you to witness, and to feel at home in Birgit Zartl's otherworldly private family reunion.
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