Christian Boltanski began to make a name for himself in 1986 with unsettling installations of old photographs, clothing, and other personal belongings that he presented as artifacts and vestiges of the lives of others. The spaces he designs, with flickering lights and shadows that create an atmosphere reminiscent of a small theater or church, can inspire hushed wonder and a poignant sensation of loss and absence. Boltanski’s work often uses the mementos of individual lives to explore the recovery of collective memory in the wake of tragedy.
For Humans (1994), Boltanski culled photographs of more than one thousand anonymous people from archives and mass media sources. In so doing, the artist established a direct connection with reality, due to the human tendency to assume that a person depicted in a photograph must have existed. His collection of artificially aged portraits of unnamed individuals suggests death and disappearance while also offering a reflection on the loss of identity.