Andy Wiener: A Rake's Progress

About A Rake's Progress

In 1984, when studying at he Royal College of Art, Wiener's interest shifted from his first love, landscape photography to creating constructed tableaux in front of the camera in order to explore psychological states. It was a big shift. In the 1980s there was a lot of concern about photographs telling lies. He wanted to make images that were explicitly false but hinted at deeper truths.

This series was made long before Photoshop. The faces in the images are photographic masks made from photographs of his own face. He invited other people to wear the masks and although they are flat, the masks look 3D when photographed.

This series established a format, photographic masks, that Wiener has used on and off ever since, to explore issues of identity. By wearing a mask, the sitter lends their identity to the person depicted in the mask, but also obscures their own identity.

The title, A Rake’s Progress, references the series of the same name by William Hogarth who made his series of etchings and paintings in 1733. Hogarth's Rake was a scoundrel who squandered his inheritance and behaved in a very immoral way and ended up in Bedlam. Wiener's Rake does the opposite, trying to lead the life set out for him by society, but sadly he too ends up in Bedlam as well (the Living Room). He has neglected the matter of his own authenticity, and has to pay a high price for this.

The sight of people holding photographic masks in front of their faces is common these days, but before A Rake’s Progress was exhibited and published this had not happened. The only previous work the artist is aware of that used photographic masks was by David Wojnarowicz, in his series entitled Arthur Rimbaud in New York, 1978-79, but this work did not seem to be in circulation until 2004, some time after Wojnarowicz's untimely death from AIDS in 1992.