Summary of Photomontage
Photomontage is an artistic practice that has endured almost since the birth of photography itself. At its most basic level, the photomontage is a single image combined of two or more original and/or existing images. The artist in question produces a montage in order to encourage their audience to think about the relationship between the grouped images. The photomontage will be achieved by cutting and pasting, while original or found photographs can often be placed next to non-photographic images (such as written text and even patterns and shapes). A "new" image might also be created by altering an original photograph through tearing and cutting. In every instance of this artistic approach the viewer is required, be that consciously or unconsciously, to make sense of an original artwork composed through image associations.
Key Ideas & Accomplishments
- From its very earliest examples, photomontage has been the medium of choice for producers of propaganda and agitprop. The political posters of the Dadaists and the Constructivists chose the photographic image above all others because the photograph communicates with an objectivity that can be lost with painting and written text. Indeed, photomontage can produce a unique, attention-grabbing, dynamism that is perfectly suited to the goals of propagandists.
- Once adopted by the Surrealists photomontage, which allowed for artists to experiment with the idea of "automatic" (or chance) free association, was used to explore the potential for creating incredulous and uncanny relations. Indeed, Surrealism effectively unshackled photomontage from its propagandist function and in so doing it widened the appreciation of the art form amongst an audience that wondered at the range of its new creative possibilities.
- Contemporary artists, such as Jeff Wall and Andreas Gursky, have exploited the boundless possibilities of digital technology to create transparent and seamless images out of multiple photographic exposures. In this respect, their images pay homage to the very earliest form of "combination printing" though in these contemporary works technology has allowed the artist to blend different geographical sites and settings into whole new localities.
- Pop artists brought photomontage closest to the fields of collage and contemporary photographers such as Lorna Simpson and John Stezaker, have extended the collage effect beyond ironic playfulness. Their "photocollages" draw attention to the seams between images with the goal of creating more intangible and more conceptual impressions amongst their audiences.
Overview of Photomontage
Photomontage first emerged in the mid-1850s as experimental photographers aspired to create images that could rank alongside fine art. The idea of the composite image was thought to have been first proposed by the French photographer Hippolyte Bayard who wanted to produce a balanced image in which the subject was superimposed on a background that brought the two together in an idealized setting. Since a photograph was regarded as the record of truth, however, his approach attracted controversy amongst the photographic community who did not warm to the blatant misrepresentation of reality.
The Important Artists and Works of Photomontage
Composed of clippings from mass media, this large photomontage combines images of industrial machines, leading contemporary figures, and text, in disruptive but ironic juxtapositions. Implicitly commenting upon Weimar society, the work assembles images of establishment figures around the phrase "anti-dada" while various anti-establishment radicals and artists cluster around the word "DADA". The asymmetrical composition reflects both the chaos of World War I, and the anarchic opposition born of its aftermath. At the same time, the image wryly challenges gender inequities, as a small map in the lower right shows the only countries that allowed women the vote. As art critic Laura Cumming wrote, "female acrobats leap and tumble among the soldiers, guns and plutocrats [resulting in] a juggling act of bristling vitality". For her part, Höch described herself as a "photomonteur" (photo-mechanic): "our whole purpose was to integrate objects from the world of machines and industry in the world of art" she said.
This work, emblematic of the Berlin Dada movement, was hailed at the First International Dada Fair in 1920 (though initially Grosz and Heartfield rejected Höch's inclusion and only softened there position on the advocacy of Höch's lover and artistic collaborator, Raoul Haussman). Like other women artists of her era, Höch was largely overlooked. She was "rediscovered" following the Museum of Modern Art's 1968 exhibition, Dada, Surrealism and their Heritage. Critic Brian Dillon added that Höch's "innovative presence has survived in the work of later monteurs: in the laconic and unsettling incisions practised by John Stezaker, in the pointed assault on images of women and commodities in the work of Linder Sterling, and more recently in the playful grotesques of the late Polish artist Jan Dziaczkowski".
This photomontage, which combines elements of collage, drawing, and the photogram, depicts El Lissitzky, looking fixidly forward, while his right eye seems to look through the center of his open palm. The same hand balances a compass over one of his graphic works, partially depicted, on the left side of the frame. The work conveys the unity of artistic vision and execution and suggests the artist is both the constructor of his work and is constructed by it.
A leading figure in Constructivism, El Lissitzky's work incorporates the movement's emphasis upon mathematical form and geometric grids. It is also considered a pioneering example of New Vision photography. As the Museum of Modern Art described it, "The essence of New Vision photography is pointedly expressed in this picture [...] which puts the act of seeing at center stage [...] insight, it expresses, is passed through the eye and transmitted to the hand, and through it to the tools of production".
Lissitzky created a number of photomontages in the early 1920s; each noted for its elegant multilayering. Photographic archivist Klaus Pollmeier, who conducted an in-depth study on behalf of the Museum of Modern Art, wrote, "despite the relative paucity of his means, what remains remarkable to the close observer of Lissitzky's photographic images is that the artist does not at all appear to have felt constrained. He seems to have visualized many aspects of the final image before the exposure of the negative in the camera, compensating for the shortcomings of his limited technology with a sharp and almost boundless imagination".
This photomontage portrays various figures, alone or in groups, as if placed within three shapes, resembling test tubes. At lower left, a group of African men huddle in a linked ring, while atop the test-tube a woman aims a rifle at an anatomical diagram of a man (we know this as he is wearing a trilby hat) in the adjacent test-tube. Above the man, another man aims a billiard cue at a huddled group of women, while in the upper test tube, a German officer stands as if surveying a military parade. The juxtapositions are disconcerting and arbitrary, though connected by a sense of potential violence and arbitrary social forces, informed by gender and race.
Making this image while he was teaching at the Bauhaus (between 1923 and 1928), Moholy-Nagy called his photomontages "photoplastics" and defined them as "a compressed interpenetration of visual and verbal wit". Also called In the Name of the Law, this work was prompted by events in Vienna in 1927 when police killed 89 protestors in a crowd that stormed parliament. Influenced by the Dadaists (he made his first photomontages while sharing a studio with Kurt Schwitters in the early 1920s) Moholy-Nagy has placed his figures, cut from magazines, within a Constructivist schema. As art critic Andy Grundberg noted, his "use of photomontage remains distinctive not because he originated the form but because of what he did with it. Just as his theoretical program was distinct from those of the Dadaists and the Constructivists, so, too, was his imagery. The Dadaists were satirists and the Constructivists were social idealists; Moholy, a romantic who managed to be both a utopian and a pragmatist, was able to span both positions, and more".
Useful Resources on Photomontage
- 13k viewsOvation TV | Heartfield
- 16k viewsZygosis: John Heartfield and the Political Image. 1 of 3
- 11k viewsHeartfield
- 37k viewsKurt Schwitters Documentary
- 52k viewsDavid Hockney JoinersSR Tafe Design Online
- 55k viewsDavid Hockney - Joiners - Documentary 2014
- 14k viewsWhat David Hockney's Brilliant Collages Reveal About PhotosSmithsonian Channel
- 441 viewsPeter Kennard - Photomontage Today - 1982
- 9k viewsTateShots 14 April 2011Peter Kennard: Studio Visit
- 35k viewsTateShots 21 March 2014Lorna Simpson: Studio visit
- Photomontage (World of Art)By Dawn Ades
- John Heartfield: Laughter Is a Devastating WeaponBy David King and Ernst Volland
- Dadas on Art: Tzara, Arp, Duchamp and OthersEdited by Lucy R. Lippard
- Graphic Assembly: Montage, Media, and Experimental Architecture in the 1960sBy Craig Buckley
- El Lissitzky's Multilayer Photographs: A Technical AnalysisOur PickIn Mitra Abbaspour, Lee Ann Daffner, and Maria Morris Hambourg, eds. Object:Photo. Modern Photographs: The Thomas Walther Collection 1909-1949 / By Klaus Pollmeier / The Museum of Modern Art. New York: The Museum
- John Heartfield: PhotomontagesMoMA / April 15-July 6, 1993
- Rosler, MarthaMuseum of Contemporary Photography
- Martha Rosler website
- Peter Kennard website
- Jeff Wall June 29 - September 23, 2007Art Institute of Chicago
- PHOTOGRAPHY VIEW; Photomontage: A Metaphor for Modern LifeOur PickBy Vicki Goldberg / New York Times / May 31, 1992
- Amazing Surreal Compositions Created with Non-Digital TechniquesBy Katie Hosmer / mymodernmet.com / June 6, 2014
- Rodchenko's revolution: a socialist with true visionOur PickBy Arifa Akbar / Independent / January 2, 2008
- Dada's GirlBy Luc Sante / Slate / April 10, 1997
- Dada Dearest: An Artist Alone With Her CallingBy Michael Kimmelman / New York Times / February 28, 1997
- Hannah Höch - reviewOur PickBy Laura Cumming / The Guardian / January 13, 2014
- Hannah Höch: art's original punkOur PickBy Brian Dillon / The Guardian / January 9, 2014
- PHOTOGRAPHY VIEW; THE VISUAL WIT OF MOHOLY-NAGYOur PickBy Andy Grundberg / New York Times / July 31, 1983
- The Voraciousness and Oddity of Dora Maar's PicturesOur PickBy Brian Dillon / New Yorker / May 21, 2019
- Dora Maar's Seductive SurrealismBy Joseph Nechvatal / Hyperallergic / July 18, 2019
- Dora Maar's Piercing GazeBy Jenny Uglow / New York Review of Books / July 6, 2019
- The Living Room War: A Conversation with Artist Martha RoslerOur PickBy Laura Hubber / blogs.getty.edu / February 16, 2017
- A Re-Appraisal of Martha Rosler's Iconic PhotomontagesUpdating "House Beautiful" for the ongoing war on terror. / BOMB Magazine / Medium.com / April 27, 2016
- See for YourselfMartha Rosler shows how the world really works / By Jillian Steinhauer / New Republic / January 4, 2019
- Cut and Paste: Works by Franz West and Martha RoslerBy Ingrid Langston / MOMA / August 16, 2012
- Martha Rosler's 'Irrespective'The iconic Brooklyn-based artist celebrates a new survey of her work at the Jewish Museum / By Elyssa Goodman / Tablet Magazine / November 7, 2018
- Lorna Simpson: When Hell Freezes OverOur PickBy Philomena Epps / Elephant Art / March 13, 2018
- Lorna Simpson's Glowing Collages of Women and Heads of HairBy Monica Uszerowicz / Hyperallergic / June 12, 2018
- The many layers of David HockneyBy Martin Gayford / The Telegraph / September 23, 2011
- Protest and survive: why Peter Kennard is political dynamiteOur PickBy Richard Slocombe / The Guardian / May 1, 2015
- John Stezaker: 'cutting a photograph can feel like cutting through flesh'Our PickBy Sean O'Hagan / The Guardian / March 27, 2014
- Family Memories Blend Together to Create New NarrativesBy Katie Hosmer / mymodernmet / July 24, 2013
- Musings: Jackson Patterson's Recollected MemoriesBy Janna Dotschkal / National Geographic / October 3, 2013
- Surreal Hyper-Detailed Photos - Jean Francois RauzierBy Alice Yoo / My Modern Met / January 14, 2010