Here below: the photographs that Paul Nougé took between 1929 and 1930 that were published as a series by Marcel Mariën in 1968. (Click to enlarge.)
These are from a little treasure file of scans I’ve made that I keep for future research inspiration. For some reason I only have 17 images of a supposed set of 19. I’ll have to figure out which ones I missed. “Subversion of images” indeed…!
The set is conventionally interpreted in terms of its photographic self-reflexivity. Frédéric Thomas suggests that what Nougé subverts is documentation, the representative real.
It’s true that the zaniness of these photos lies in missing or irrational objects that are literally being “signed” or “indicated” to viewers. In this sense, the indexicality of analogue photography is repeatedly exposed as all indexing, no “thing itself.”
However, I like the idea that Subversion des images is less medium-specific than it may first appear.
Mariën suggested in 1968 that the series was the starting point for Les images défendues (1943), Nougé’s theory of René Magritte’s paintings. In this sense, Nougé’s interest in subverting images overrides any category of image in particular. He stresses process, instead. His statements that accompany this photographic series explain his intent to make spectators “play at perverting objects” (Nougé 17). In Subversion of Images, making and looking are part of the same subversive “methodical exploration,” which consists of:
Choosing an action performed through an object or on an object and modifying this object while perfectly maintaining the gesture or attitude of the chosen action (Nougé 1968: 19-20)
I find this to be a very rich and very intermedial artistic project. Subversion of Images is like a wrinkle in art historical time, an artwork that arrives at Surrealism by way of Fluxus.
Further reading on Subversion des Images:
Ana Gonzalez Salvador, “Nougé et l’action photographié: la pensée faite corps,” Francofonìa 13 2004, 53-70.
Frédéric Thomas, “Towards a Minor Surrealism: Paul Nougé and The Subversion of Images” Minor Photography: Connecting Deleuze and Guattari to Photography Theory, ed. Mieke Bleyen. Leuven: Universitaire Pers Leuven, 2012, 125-144.