In 2012, Swiss-based artists Jojakim Cortis and Adrian Sonderegger presented themselves with a challenge: to recreate some of the world’s most iconic images in their studio. In a bit of self-deprecating irony, they decided to start with the world’s most expensive photograph (at the time), Andreas Gursky’s Rhein II. After all, the money wasn’t coming in for their own work, but at least they could have some fun.

The positive feedback they received after the first image was enough: with this initial success, they decided to deepen the series. But they quickly realized they needed a new metric besides expense—many of the other images on the list were simply too hard to reproduce using the same methods. So they began trawling through books filled with history’s most memorable photographs and picking out ones which caught their eye. Using optical tricks and painstaking artistry, the duo has faithfully reproduced dozens of history’s most iconic moments, but each with a new perspective and gleam of creative rebellion.

On the faithful side, Cortis and Sonderegger are unparalleled. For each chosen picture, the pair carefully consider the conditions in which the original image was made. The artists then meticulously mimic the situation in their studio, sometimes spending months on a single model. Then, with craftsmen’s attention to detail, they re-create the lighting and vantage point of the original camera and are able to “re-make” the event in today’s world.

At the same time, the two are eager to highlight their own artifice, to rebel against the canon. While they could easily employ Photoshop and produce “perfect” reproductions, they prefer to engage with the material process, leaving behind traces of their handiwork. Indeed, in their final compositions, Cortis and Sonderegger pull the camera back to reveal their studio and working methods, thus exposing the backstage and ”making of aspect of their craft. By including the debris of their constructions (paint, glue, batteries, etc.), the artists present an image within an image—leaving the viewer unbalanced between the remake of the past and the studio environment of the present.

By next year, the two intend to publish a book with all of their reproductions. So, for the next several months, they are motivated by an impending deadline. But at its core, the project remains one of pleasure and mischief. In their words, “It’s a good thing that people question whether every photograph is true. You shouldn’t trust every image. We want to outwit and question the documentary aspect [of the medium]”.

Ultimately, their aim is not to mislead the viewer but to fully expose the process of creation. They would like to raise questions about the nature of our experiences, our memories and those historical “icons” that anchor our understanding of the world.

—LensCulture