Exercise 1.2: Through a digital lens

In 1964, Belgian surrealist, René Magritte, painted 'The Son of Man' (below, left). It is a portrait of a man in a bowler hat, red tie and dark blue overcoat.  He is standing in front of a low wall, which holds back the sea in the background. Overhead is a cloudy sky. The most distinctive feature of this oil painting is the green apple, which partly obscures the subject's face. His left eye can just be seen peering at the viewer from behind the fruit. The title, 'Son of Man', together with the apple, give the work of art a religious reference to Adam in the Garden of Eden.


Whilst the portrait contains common features, there is a sense of mystery, or conflict, that exists for the viewer. The man's figure hides the full sea view in the background. His gloved left hand is slightly behind his back. It is unclear whether he is holding something. Meanwhile, the apple hides the man's face, so without a visible expression, it is unclear as to how he is feeling, or what he is thinking. The apple becomes something of an annoyance to the viewer.


Following Magritte's work, Juan de Ezcurra has attempted to recreate it as a photograph, with a modern twist. Whilst the top half of a man, wearing a dark suit, red tie, and hat is seen standing in the middle of the foreground, he is holding an Apple iPhone instead of an apple. He is holding the phone so that the iconic Apple logo can be clearly seen. Subsequently, there are some differences between the two images. Whilst Ezcurra has photographed his subject on a cloudy day, the background is very different, with a sea of concrete instead of water. The buildings behind the man also provide the viewer with a possible reference point as to where the stranger is. Whereas Magritte's work is nondescript.


Another difference is that the man is holding his left hand up, instead of it being partly hidden. The iPhone covers both of his eyes, and it is unclear whether he is actually taking a selfie, or photographing the viewer. This feature of the image could be a metaphor for how people now hide behind their digital devices, capturing the details behind them rather than seeing what is in front of them. Alternatively, it could be that on a basic level, Juan de Ezcurra has simply replaced an apple with an Apple. 


With artwork it it is all too easy to read more in an image than what was meant by its creator.