The Digital Tableau

One of the challenges presented to us in Ivan Iannoli‘s class “The Taken and the Made” at the San Francisco Art Institute was to create a tableau that was in some way “essentially digital”. I created the following fun image:

Palace Girls Gone Wild!
Palace Girls Gone Wild!

Is this “essentially digital”? It obviously is a composite image, but while digital imaging has greatly increased the ease of compositing, photographers using traditional chemical-based photography did compositing as well. The technique may have been invented by Oscar Gustave Rejlander around 1853. Rejlander’s most famous composite image is The Two Ways of Life (1857) consisting of 32 wet-plate negatives.The final image was a 31×16″ albumen silver print.  It took him about six weeks to create the image!

Two Ways of Life (1854) photomontage by Oscar Gustave Rejoinder
“Two Ways of Life” (1857) photomontage by Oscar Gustave Rejoinder

My claim that Palace Girls Gone Wild! is essentially digital rests not on the fact that it is composited, but on the fact that significant use was made of Photoshop’s “Warp” and “Puppet Warp” functions. I don’t think these have equivalents in chemical-based photography.

I case you don’t recognize the setting of Palace Girls Gone Wild!, it is the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. The Palace was designed by noted architect Bernard Maybeck for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. It is one of only three remaining buildings from the “city within a city” that was the exposition, and the only one on its original site. All the images in my photograph came from the Palace. Some of the originals are shown below.

Ladies with wreaths_MG_6500



  1. I discovered that the “Two Ways of Life” photo in this blog is actually the second version Rejlander produced. In order to partially assuage outraged Victorians, he changed the “sage” in the center so that he faced to our right — toward “virtue” — rather than left, toward “vice”.

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