Beginning in the late 1920s (and continuing through the 1980s) artisans in Mexico began producing fotoesculturas: portraits that combine photography, sculpture and painting to produce three-dimensional likenesses. These photo-sculptures were inexpensive to produce and were often commissioned from traveling salesmen to commemorate important events (weddings, family celebrations), memorialize the dead, honor individuals, etc. Fotoesculturas were very popular throughout Mexico and even in Mexican-American communities in the US. However, there is almost no documentation of these objects in the history of photography. An American artist, Pamela Scheinman, has researched the subject and the information here comes primarily from her writings.
The process begins with an existing photograph, which is then sent to an artisanal workshop where it is transformed into sculptural form. The artisan would copy and enlarge the photo, then cut out the face from the copied photo and mold this onto a wooden bust. Often the photo would be hand-colored, and decoration would also be added to the bust (dimensionally or through painting) to complete the portrait – clothing, hats, accessories, etc. Finally, the portrait would be sandwiched between two sheets of beveled glass, and generally placed in an elaborate frame. The physical dimension of these objects lends them a distinctive quality, and for Mexican families these were often the centerpiece of homemade altars or shrines.
Fotoesculturas were particularly popular during the 1940s. In the US they flourished during WWII as immigrant families wanted to commemorate loved ones who were away at war.
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Medium Photo Sculpture/Foto Escultura in Hand-Carved Wooden Frame
Photo Date c 1940s
Dimensions 13.5 x 11.2 in. (343 x 284 mm)
Photo Country Mexico
Photographer Country Mexico
Charles Schwartz Ltd.