A recent chance comment by a former design student I mentor, inspired this piece. I was showing him a new book I’d just collected, ‘Photomontage between the Wars’, not exactly a gripping holiday read for many I’m sure, but I love it. He flicked through these amazing, cut and paste images and said “Wow, Imagine what they could do with our tools now!” And that’s what got me thinking...
Photomontage what is it?
Our online oracle, Wikipidea, defines it as: ‘The process and the result of making a composite photograph by cutting, gluing, rearranging and overlapping two or more photographs into a new image.’ You cannot be serious! (well it’s Wimbledon), our kids do something similar at Nursery. What’s the big deal and when did it become a serious art form?
The art of photomontage started just after the 1st World War, although our Victorian ancestors had amused themselves before this, dabbling with funny mash-up postcard images of people and unusual creatures. The creative potential of the medium however, was first used to great effect by a group of Berlin artists called Dada who were looking for a new way of visually expressing themselves in an anti-war stance. The major exponents of Dadaist photomontages at the time were: Hannah Höch, Kurt Schwitters, Johannes Baader and Raoul Hausmann. At the same time, our Russian Constructivist friends were creating powerful, pioneering, photomontage propaganda (phew, how’s that for alliteration!) The major players were artists such as El Lissitzky, Alexander Rodchenko, Gustav Klutsis and Valentina Kulagina.
After this incredibly productive era, the popularity of photomontage faded a little only to be resurrected in the 1960s with the emergence of Pop Art. Punk record sleeves and Fanzines in the late 70’s kept the spirit of the artform alive and it was again embraced in a very political way with the anti-nuclear protests of the 80’s. We also have some excellent contemporary artists on the current scene like Sue Wicker, visit www.susan-wicker.com
Okay the scene is set. I’ll show you some great pics and then come back to respond to the statement “Wow, Imagine what they could do with our tools now!”
Cut and pasted!
Since this is an opinion piece I’m entitled to voice my opinion and you’re perfectly entitled to disagree. The art produced in the pioneering early days was very powerful. It was reliant only on simple tools, humble materials and a vivid imagination, I don’t feel that access to our technology would have been a positive addition. Our graphic artists now have computing power beyond belief. They can (and have to) create amazing technically complex, composite imagery (commonly referred to as ‘Photoshopping’) at an incredible speed as the market and business savvy clients demand. However, are the limitations of materials, tools and the hand-crafted, cut ‘n’ paste approach the missing ‘wow’ elements in the general output of our creative industries? I think so. Most essentially though, the main ingredient missing from the mix is purpose; something the artist feels strongly about, not just another job to get in and out the door quickly. This to me sounds like our career politicians - they can make their fancy speeches, putting the words eloquently in the right order but do they believe in it and does it matter? I think so.
Sticking with the theme!
It’s not all doom and gloom and lusting after the byegone days. There has been great positive trends in recent years with our designers embracing a more retro craft aesthetic; mixing antique print techniques, hand drawn type, illustration etc - sheer ‘hipsterville’. There’s also a new ‘style movement’ called Pretty Ugly out there and according to the guys that coined the term, Martin Lorenz and Lupi Asensio of Barcelona design studio TwoPoints.Net, “It is a new kind of beauty that isn’t based upon pure visual pleasure, it is a beauty based upon context-driven design, being transparent with working methods, tools and materials.” Check it out, it’s pure visual Marmite, but love or hate it - it grabs your attention.
Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.