Variously described as “a sludgy image of the grey Rhine under grey skies” and as “vibrant, beautiful and memorable,” Andreas Gursky’s Rhein II was once the most expensive photograph ever sold, until it was surpassed in 2014. Auctioned off for $4.3 million in 2011, it was an image that quickly entered into the public lexicon and was one that often divided public opinion.
It is images such as this one that Switzerland-based artists Jojakim Cortis and Adrian Sonderegger have painstakingly been recreating in their own studios — with store-bought models and some in-house DIY. Their photographs are playful, mocking even. And while we might laugh at a black cardboard Loch Ness Monster raising its head above plastic wrap water, seeing a facsimile of a burning World Trade Center, with pen-etched windows and cotton-wool smoke, is certainly jarring.
What is most striking, though, is how accurately they have recreated the originals. Their burning Hindenberg is as terrifying as the one in Sam Shere’s iconic 1937 image, and their recreation of Ludwig Wegmann’s shot of a hooded kidnapper during the 1972 Munich Massacre is equally chilling. But this very realism is framed by evidence that these are photographs of miniature models: we see rigs, overhead lighting and even rolls of masking tape on the floor. It is a move that seems to draw attention to the very artificiality of the pieces, reminding us that these are merely objects. Just like the original photographs.
Richard Conway is reporter/producer for TIME LightBox