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23 July 2015

Souvenirs of the sphinx, like a short history of photography, Rencontres 2015


In his Natural History, published in 77 CE, Pliny the Elder lamented the short shrift given the Sphinx: ‘In front of the pyramids is the Sphinx, a still more wondrous work of art, but one upon which silence has been observed.’ The pyramids overshad‐ owed the Sphinx for millennia until drawings, prints, and, especially, photographs made it an icon.

Wouters Deruytter’s collection is a history of the photography of this solitary, monumental sculpture. The Sphinx sits beneath albumin, collodion, or gelatine skies in monochrome hues ranging from brown to pale pink in 19th‐century photographs to black and white in the 20th.

The Sphinx, a witness to the birth of archaeology and the growth of tourism, has placidly watched a parade of travellers go by. Explorers, archaeologists, napoleon, soldiers, groups, couples, and families with children have all posed in front of the stone giant. Sitting on its head, neck, or sides, they make it look as though the human‐headed sculpture is wearing jewellery. Angles are repeated and overlap in this body of work with a single variable, whose re‐editions increased with the invention of the postcard.

The photographs—souvenirs that were looked at and shared—show wear and tear. Their alterations recall the erosion and restorations the sculpture has undergone.

Monumental photographs by Wouter himself accompany his collection, offering an unusual vision of the sphinx. Exploring the giant with a lion’s body, inside and out, they invite us to the heart of the world’s most enigmatic sculpture. These images tell us how much awareness of heritage shifts from one object to another. After accompanying and documenting admiration for the sphinx, it is the photographs’ turn to be preserved and offered for contemplation.

Luce Lebart


Exhibition curator: Luce Lebart.

Modern prints by Granon Digital, Paris.

Framing by Circad, Paris.
Exhibition venue: Musée Départemental Arles Antique.