Tableau vivant (plural: tableaux vivants) is French for "living picture." The term describes a striking group of suitably costumed actors or artist's models, carefully posed and often theatrically lit. Throughout the duration of the display, the people shown do not speak or move. The approach thus marries the art forms of the stage with those of painting/photography, and as such it has been of interest to modern photographers. The most recent hey-day of the tableau vivant was the 19th century with virtually nude tableau vivants or "poses plastiques" providing a form of erotic entertainment.
Acting the Part: Photography As Theatre
In 'staged' photography the artist takes on the role of a director, creating or staging an image. He or she uses models, props, costumes or lighting, often creating a theatrical quality. This beautifully produced book traces the history of the staged photograph, focusing on such key themes as the artist as actor, art historical imagery, and narratives and allegories. It includes engaging essays on Victorian tableaux vivants, Surrealism, and iconic photographs from the 1930s and 1940s previously thought to be documentary images but that were in fact staged.
This art form, considered a marriage between photography and theater, seems an appropriate influence to cite for anyone working in a staged mode of photography. I think it opens and interesting conversation with the photographic works of Gregory Crewdson who has gone so far as to use Hollywood actors and actresses to heighten the 'film still' aesthetic of his work. On the opposite end of the spectrum, when photography was more of a marvel in and of itself, artists went out of their way to stage live compositions, and hold them, to heighten the 'still film' aesthetic of their performance.