A good work of art can never be read in one way. My work is full of contradictions. An artwork is open-it is the spectators looking at the work who make the piece, using their own background. A lamp in my work might make you think of a police interrogation, but it's also religious, like a candle. At the same time it alludes to a precious painting, with a single light shining on it. There are many way of looking at the work. It has to be ‘unfocused' somehow so that everyone can recognize something of their own self when viewing it 1

Christian Boltansky, Humans 1994.
Photographs and lights. Overall dimensions variable.

In the early 1960s, artists began to incorporate photographic images into their paintings and explore the idea that an artwork can take the form of an archive. Rather than taking their own photographs, some appropriated images that already existed into their own work. Though initially this approach was seen as radical, many of today's artists embrace appropriation, abetted by the vast archival repository of the Internet.

Since the late 1960s, Christian Boltanski (b. 1944, Paris) has worked with photographs collected from everyday sources, endowing the commonplace with significance. To memorialize everyday people in his installations, he often rephotographs old images. Boltanski seeks to create an art that is indistinguishable from life and has said, "The fascinating moment for me is when the spectator hasn't registered the art connection, and the longer I can delay this association the better." 2 By appropriating mementos of other people's lives and placing them in an art context, Boltanski explores the power of photography to transcend individual identity and to function instead as a witness to collective rituals and shared cultural memories.

Humans is one of several large-scale works by Boltanski that evokes the contemplative atmosphere of a theater or a space for religious observance. The installation consists of more than 1,200 images that the artist rephotographed from everyday documents, including passport photographs, school portraits, newspaper pictures, family albums, and police registries. Simultaneously illuminated and concealed by dangling lightbulbs, the arrangement of snapshots does not provide a way to identify or connect the unnamed individuals, to distinguish the living from the dead or victim from criminal. Each of these traces of human life has been reduced to a uniform size to obscure distinguishing features and to suggest the equality of the group. The collection of images is installed at random, thereby prohibiting the implication of a singular narrative. Within this haunting environment, Boltanski intermingles emotion and history, juxtaposing innocence and guilt, truth and deception, sentimentality and profundity.3 At once personal and universal in reference, Boltanski's work serves as a monument to the victims of wars and other conflicts.

1 Tamar Garb in conversation with Christian Boltanski, in Christian Boltanski (London: Phaidon Press, 1997), p. 24.
2 Quoted in "Christian Boltanski: Lessons of Darkness" .


  • Muestre a su clase Humanos.
  • ¿Cuál es su reacción ante esta obra? ¿Qué estado de ánimo provoca?
  • Esta obra se ha construido empleando únicamente dos materiales sencillos: fotografías y luces. ¿Con qué asocian cada uno de esos elementos? ¿Cómo sugiere el artista un estado de ánimo mediante el empleo y la manipulación de estos materiales?
  • Boltanski ha dicho: “Parte de mi trabajo ha sido acerca de lo que llamo ‘pequeña memoria’. La gran memoria está recogida en libros y la pequeña trata sobre cosas menores: trivialidades, bromas. Parte de mi obra ha estado orientada a preservar esa ‘pequeña memoria’, porque a menudo, cuando alguien muere, esos recuerdos desaparecen. No obstante, esa ‘memoria pequeña’ es la que distingue a las personas, es la que las hace únicas. Esos recuerdos son muy frágiles; quería preservarlos”¹. ¿Creen que esta obra logra el objetivo de Boltanski? Explicadlo.

1 Tamar Garb in conversation with Christian Boltanski, en Christian Boltanski, Phaidon Press, Londres, 1997.pág. 19.