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History's Shadow

© David Maisel

History’s Shadow comprises my series of re-photographed x-rays of art objects from antiquity. I have culled these x-rays from the archives of the Getty Museum and the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, which utilize them for conservation purposes. Through the x-ray process, the artworks of origin become de-contextualized, yet acutely alive and renewed.

Rendering three dimensions into two is at the heart of the photographic process. With the x-ray, this sense is compounded, since it maps both the inner and outer surfaces of its subject. The mysterious images that result seem to encompass both an inner and an outer world, as the two-dimensional photograph brings us into a realm of indeterminate space, depth, and scale. The x-ray provides a filter and a means to read the intrinsic properties of these works, the trace elements with which these objects are imbued. They encourage an understanding- made through feeling and art, as well as science and reason- that both spans and collapses time.

As with all photographs, these images are fragments; the x-ray, which in History’s Shadow seems to slice through both material and time itself, furthers that connotation. The x-ray has historically been used for the structural examination of art and artifacts much as physicians examine bones and internal organs; it reveals losses, replacements, methods of construction, and internal trauma that may not be visible to the naked eye. The re-worked images of these x-rays are thus encrypted codes for the viewer to decipher. They make the invisible visible, and express through photographic means the shape-shifting nature of time itself, and the continuous presence of the past contained within us.

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