First published: Summer 2023


A subgenre of art brut focusses on photos that have been discarded, rediscovered, and brought back to life as “photomachinées”


The exhibition poster shows a black-and-white photograph with a jagged border. In a desert landscape dotted with cacti, two little girls, dressed in light dresses, squint under the glaring sun. Behind them, a woman wearing a long dress rests her arm on the shoulder of a man in a shirt and braces. He holds the youngest child by the shoulder and she returns his embrace. Described in this way, the image seems innocuous, a common cliché of family heritage. But, in the very centre of the image, the faces of the two adults are gone, roughly cut out, leaving behind two holes. The viewer absorbs the absence of the two protagonists, and the voids left by the severed heads.


Silver print on paper, cut out, 2.5 x 3.5 in. / 6 x 8.5 cm. All artworks shown: anonymous, untitled, n.d.,
Collection de l’Art Brut, Lausanne, unless otherwise stated


This photograph was not destroyed – it was discarded, voluntarily or involuntarily. The emotional bond between the item and the person who possessed it, just like the faces of the adults, has gone. Found and kept by a junk dealer, awaiting a new owner, the photo got lost in the piles of old images and papers at a flea market. Rediscovered in Mexico, it was bought and repatriated to France for two bargain-hunter-collectors. What is the story of this disowned, anonymous, stateless image? Our cultural heritage suggests that it is probably a portrait of a family, taken in an arid country – in the 1940s, if we consider the clothes and the nature of the print. That is where the clues end.


Photographic print enhanced with paint on wood, 4 x 5.5 x 0.5 in. / 10 x 14 x 1 cm


The photograph is one of a selection of 452 photoengineered images – the result of a ten-year or so collaboration between collectors Antoine Gentil and Lucas Reitalov – which they donated to the Collection de l'Art Brut, in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 2021. From several thousand anonymous photographs that they had amassed, the pair whittled the images down to create a coherent collection. The nomenclature that they coined for these photo-engineered items – “photomachinées” – is also the title of the resulting exhibition which, curated by Gentil, opened at the Collection de l'Art Brut at the end of March and will run until September 24, 2023.


Glued silver prints, 11.5 x 5.5 in. / 29 x 14.5 cm


Existing on the margins of the history of photography – and paid little attention by scholars in that field – the photomachinées images in the exhibition are presented as straddling vernacular photography, popular art and art brut. Produced by anonymous people, the images come from a variety of periods and sources.




This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #115.

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