There’s always something intriguing about how a visual illusion is performed, and it’s our curiosity towards such trickery that photographer Benedict Morgan has been investigating for years now. His latest personal work to do so is Tableware, a set of images revealing the “truths” of a photography set. Each shot – co-created with set designer Lisa Jahovic – is split in half, the top showing a printed photograph, the bottom showing the set in real life, immaculately sewn together in-camera. The results make anyone want to look closer.
“I’ve always loved the trickery involved in large scale film sets, for example when desert or seaside scenes are created in studio settings,” Benedict explains. “The Truman Show plays on this idea brilliantly when Truman sails into the horizon, casting a vertical shadow against the canvas and revealing the illusion. Exposing the whole set in this way is something I wanted to explore with Tableware.”
The photographer began working with illusions in 2013 with his Painted Stripes series, in which straight lines of gradating grey tones are painted over a set in perspective. Though on first glance it appears as though the effect was achieved in post production, a photo of the whole set shows it was done on set. Much of Benedict’s work since then has featured a similar approach, creating each illusion in-camera. For example Against the Wall, which features dramatic drop shadows; a shoot for Wonderland magazine showing products on a hand-drawn set of stairs; an untitled piece showing a drooping backdrop that perfectly aligns with the image behind it; and Scenic Painted Study, which features a partially painted and partially 3D set.
“I find scenic painting fascinating,” he says, “whereby only the foreground of an environment is constructed, with the mid and background painted to give the illusion of continuation. I played with this idea in Scenic Painted Study and Tableware draws inspiration from this technique, using a photograph instead of a painting to give the illusion of continuing space.”
Lisa’s clever set design for Tableware allows the viewer’s eye to focus on the background, Benedict says, reenforcing the fake sense of depth. A key challenge in creating the final shots was setting up the shots twice, one for printing off and the next IRL, to match the perspective of the former.
He hopes that in a culture where we’re saturated by imagery, Tableware causes people to stop and look again. “We have become somewhat of a “swipe culture,” Benedict says. “I feel our appreciation of the concept and level of craft that goes into making images can get lost in this culture. It’s easy to assume that an image has been manipulated in post production and quickly move on, which, in my view, can devalue the work.
“We set out to create a series that forces you to look, then look again, and piece together the visual layers in order to make sense of the image. By shooting every element in-camera and not leaving anything to post, we wanted to shine a light on how we view images in this digital age.”