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HomeContentsThemes > Photomontage and collage

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The use of multiple images to create a single final image occurred within ten years of the announcement of the invention of photography with possibly the earliest being made by Dr Thomas Keith (1827-1895) of the Grassmarket in Edinburgh in around 1848 where he created multiple calotype images on a single paper negative.
To start any discussion in this area it is useful to clarify some of the terminology used to be sure we are all talking about the same subject. There are multiple ways of putting together photographs to create a finished object and these include:
  • Composite photograph
    Creating a Composite photograph (also called a combination print) means having one or more negatives that are then used to create a single print. This requires careful planning and scrupulous attention to detail during the printing to get smooth transitions between the different parts of the image so it becomes a seamless whole. Gustave Le Gray (1820-1884) used this technique for his seascapes so that both the sea and sky could be correctly exposed. Perhaps the most famous example of a composite photograph is the 'Two Ways of Life' (1857) by the Swedish born photographer Oscar Rejlander who combined thirty negatives of figures and groups to create a single 16" x 31" image.
    Photographers:  George N. Barnard, Gustave Le Gray, Oscar Rejlander, Henry Peach Robinson
  • Photomontage
    Photomontage is the process of placing together two or more different photographs, or parts of the same photograph, together to form a single image. This used to be done by physically cutting the photographs and then pasting the different parts together. The joins concealed by sanding them down and painting them and the pasted image rephotographed to create the final photomontage. This technique was widely used in the 1920's and 1930's for political propaganda, advertising, humorous postcards and image experimentation.
    Computer assisted photomontage has extended the possibilities of photomontage and many artists now combine photographs to create seamless worlds of fantasy. The worlds of Jerry Uelsmann relied on imagination and darkroom technique but with contemporary artists the digital darkroom has totally replaced the chemical. Some creators use existing photographs and computer algorithms to generate a new work - for example Robert Silvers does this wth his 'photomosaics''. Others, such as John Paul Caponigro, combine the computer and their own images to create digital images that evoke moods and deeper emotions. For Maggie Taylor the scanner is just as important as the camera and the scanned objects are combined into surreal color fantasies.
    Photographers:  Eugne Appert (during the Paris Commune of 1871), John Paul Caponigro, David Hockney, William H. 'Dad' Martin, Herbert Matter, Scott Mutter ('Surrational images'), Robert Silvers ('Photomosaics'), Maggie Taylor, Val Telberg, Jerry Uelsmann
  • Collage
    A collage is made by placing different elements together on a flat surface. In this the photograph is only one of the possibilities and the final collage might include text, clippings, graphics and fabric. The term photocollage is used when photographs are the dominant elements of the overall collage.
    Widely used in graphic design and advertising this technique has sporadically flourished for political propaganda - most notably in the period between the First and Second World Wars in Weimar Germany with John Heartfield and Hannah Hch and in Russia with Alexander Rodchenko and El Lissitzky. Political collage from 1970 onwards has emerged as a means of forcing home a message with maximum impact and the German artist Klaus Staeck was influential in this with a prodigious output including his 1971 book Pornografie that attacked the twisted attitudes and hypocrisy of society.
    Photographers:  Wallace Berman, Victor Burgin, Paul Citroen, Nancy Goldring, John Heartfield, Hannah Hch, Gustav Klutsis, El Lissitzky, Lszl Moholy-Nagy, Alexander Rodchenko, Klaus Staeck, Edmund Teske, Piet Zwart
  • Assemblage
    The putting together of multiple three dimensional 'found' elements to create a single artistic object. In the history of photography there are several notable examples of this but the most memorable is the 'Object Indestructible' by Man Ray which consists of a metronome with the affixed eye of Lee Miller on it's swinging arm.
    Photographers:  Man Ray, Ivo Precek
Understanding the terms
Gustave Le Gray
Large Wave, Mediterranean Sea 
Alexander Rodchenko
Inside layout for "USSR in Construction" Issue #12, 1933 [White Sea Canal Issue] 
Appert Brothers
[Photomontage during the Paris Commune] 
Man Ray
Indestructible Object 
These show the four types:
  • Composite photograph / Combination print - Gustave Le Gray: Two negatives used to create a single image
  • Photomontage - Eugne Appert used this technique during the Paris Commune of 1871 to create political propaganda.
  • Collage - The design work of Alexander Rodchenko in Russian books and magazines of the 1930s merged photographs with graphics and typography.
  • Assemblage - Man Ray combined photographs with other objects and media to create artworks.
[Checklist]Click on image for details 
[Copyright and Fair Use Issues]
With the rise of digital photography these approaches, particularly composite photographs and photomontage, are greatly facilitated and have become common practice in advertising. The rise of graphic art in advertising and packaging means that we accept the juxtapositions of collage as an everyday experience - any book cover, cereals box or magazine advert shows the duality of the banality and the sophistication of image use.
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