Atonal Portraits by Marco Annaratone & Hanni Cerutti


The project challenges two established norms, i.e., the invariance of color temperature and of exposure across a picture (beyond burning and dodging, of course). We call this technique “photosequencing.”

Turning constant parameters into variable ones to explore new dimensions in expressiveness is nothing new in art. In fact, there is a most appropriate musical parallel in atonality.

Just as atonal music modulated (the rigidity of) tonality, we modulate (the rigidity of) color temperature and exposure with photosequencing. The parallel with music has not happened by chance, as contemporary classical music is one of the major sources of inspiration of Twelve Tone Photography. Indeed,  its very name — twelve-tone music was the forefather of atonality — pays homage to one of its major sources of inspiration.

In spite of its revolutionary thrust, atonality may have produced a corpus of music that will survive the filter of time with considerable difficulty. In fact, we believe that an invaluable contribution may not be in its very own output but in breaking barriers, thus providing the preconditions for new music to be created.

Steve Reich once wrote:  “The reality of cadence to a key or modal center is basic in all the music of the world (Western and non Western). This reality is also related to the primacy of the intervals of the fifth, fourth, and octave in all the world’s music as well as in the physical acoustics of sound. Similarly for the regular rhythmic pulse. Any theory of music that eliminates these realities is doomed to a marginal role in the music of the world. The postman will never whistle Schönberg. This does not mean Schönberg was not a great composer — clearly he was. It does mean that his music (and the music like his) wlll always inhabit a sort of “dark little corner” off by itself in the history of all the world’s music.” [1]

Photosequencing will surely end up inhabiting that “dark little corner off by itself”: its strong chromatic signature drastically limits its applicability. Indeed, our plan is to use photosequencing with “extreme prejudice,” and always in very specific (and restricted) situations.

It would be presumptuous of us to compare photosequencing to atonality, being the intellectual depth of the two so immensely different. Photosequencing, though, shares with atonality the rejection of entrenched norms that have no rational justification except for the — undoubtedly formidable — strength of tradition.  To put it in a different and somewhat direct way (and similarly to how classical music evolved one hundred years ago as a result of the break up of tonality): what’s the point in photographing with digital technology in the same way we have done in the past 150 years with film? Isn’t digital technology giving us the opportunity to explore new stylistic paradigms? Don’t we have the intellectual obligation to explore them?

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Photosequencing’s rigorous manipulation of the image (a formal introduction, for those interested in the technical details, can be found on our site) clashes in this project with its content: store mannequins, a trivial ode to make-believe and mass-production. Photoequencing here serves the purpose of having the viewer concentrate on the mosaic-like quality of the visual experience and disregard somehow the main subject. Thus, a cursory glance of a picture may often trick the viewer into believing that the subject is in fact a real model. Real and imaginary, flesh and plastic, get all mixed together in a tribute to consumerism.

Fake and stereotyped beauties are presented as chain store products with barcode and plastic wrapping. Far from being a freak experiment or a trivial Photoshop trick, photosequencing serves the purpose of better comunicating “what was really in front of us” — for better or worse — to the viewer.


Much attention has gone into the actual implementation, to be consistent with the philosophy behind the project. Prints have been made using dye-based inks on a Pictorico Pro Hi-Gloss White film, a truly unique material with a strong plasticky look and “in-your-face” chromatic signature. Dibond backing and bi-adhesive mount of plexiglass in front.  The latter has been used to put between the viewer and the artifact a plastic shield. Finally, a frame built with Legoä bricks and glued over the plexiglass surrounds each image, as shown in the video on our site. The Legoä frame undoubtedly introduces a sense of childish play in the representation of the artifacts: ok, let’s be serious, but not “that” serious, c’mon …. Here again we wanted to convey the feeling of a “synthetic reality.”

Finally, all Twelve Tone Photography prints are unique artifacts. We strongly reject the concept of multiple copies, limited editions, and the like. Pictures come in two sizes, depending on their form factor: either 45.5cm x 30.5 or 35.5cm x 30.5cm. [Official Website]


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[1] Steve Reich, Writings on Music 1965-2000, Edited by Paul Hiller, Oxford University Press, 2002, p.186-187

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