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visual arts - photography - montage - collage - Chris Marker - Raoul Hausmann

Fading Away (1858) - Henry Peach Robinson


Photomontage is the process (and result) of making a composite picture by cutting and joining a number of photographs. The English photographer, Henry Peach Robinson (1830-1901) is credited with making the first photomontages, soon after starting his career in 1857.

Many of the early examples of fine-art photomontage superimposed photographed elements on watercolours, a combination returned to by (e.g.) George Grosz, in about 1915. David Ridge has extended this idea by using photographs of painted, sculptured landscapes as part of the composition (1999/2000). Other methods for combining pictures are also called photomontage, such as combination printing (the printing from more than one negative on a single piece of printing paper - e.g. O. G. Rejlander, 1857) and front-projection and computer montage techniques. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photomontage, Feb 2004

Fading Away (1858) - Henry Peach Robinson

Perhaps the most famous of his pictures is Fading Away (1858), a composition of five negatives, in which he depicts a girl dying of consumption (which we know as tuberculosis), and the despair of the other members of the family. This was a controversial photograph, and some felt that the subject was not suitable for photography. One critic said that Robinson had cashed in on "the most painful sentiments which it is the lot of human beings to experience." It would seem that it was perfectly in order for painters to paint pictures on such themes, but not for photographers to do so. However, the picture captured the imagination of Prince Albert, who bought a copy and issued an order for every composite portrait he produced subsequently. --http://www.rleggat.com/photohistory/history/robinson.htm [Sept 2004]

Henry Peach Robinson (b. Ludlow July 9, 1830 – d. February 21, 1901) was a British pioneer Pictorialist photographer who made combination prints that joined multiple negatives to form a single image (photomontage). --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Peach_Robinson [Jan 2006]

Photomontage and dada

Hausmann, Heartfield, Grosz, and Hannah Höch are generally cited as photomontage's earliest practitioners. The new form, which differed from commercial photomontage in its complex compositions and self-referential content made an early appearance in the journal Der Dada, which Hausmann edited. The third number of Der Dada, appearing in April 1920, was edited collaboratively by Hausmann, Heartfield and Grosz.

For the cover Heartfield created a photomontage - a vibrant mix of newspaper cutouts of consumer products and logos. The cover has an active, fragmented look and a staccato rhythm that mirrors modern city life. The composition is dominated by a photo of Hausmann's face caught mid-scream - perhaps in the midst of reciting one of his sound poems that he was known for performing at Dada events.


John Heartfield, Raoul Hausmann, and George Grosz
DER dADa 3
Journal with reproduction of collage by Heartfield Germany, 1920
Letterpress, 9 1/8 x 6 3/16 inches --http://www.mcbcollection.com/newpages/derdada.html

Cut And Paste: Dada

Raoul Hausmann (Berlin, April 1920)

Der Dada 3, ed. Raoul Hausmann (Berlin, April 1920), cover.

There will always be an argument over who invented the word "photomontage". What is not at issue is that it was one of the members of the Berlin Dada group: the debate is about which one. This is hardly surprising since much of the early montage work was the result of collaboration, and many early works are credited to more than one artist. So the official (and diplomatic) version is that the five exponents of Dada montage, John Heartfield, Hannah Höch, Johannes Baader, Raoul Hausmann, and George Grosz all agreed that their new art form required a new name (to distinguish it from the painterly collage of the Cubists.)

Dada was always about kicking out against the status quo. After all, the status quo had just produced the most devastating war in European history, and the artists, who had mostly spent the war years in the safety of neutral Switzerland, returned to Germany desperate to find ways of conveying the madness of the age. One early Dada exhibition was held in a men's public toilet, and visitors were given an axe to destroy the exhibits: it was never a movement much concerned with commercialism or posterity!

"Montage" in German means "fitting" or "assembly line" and "monteur" means "mechanic" or "engineer". John Heartfield, the best known practitioner of montage who used to work in overalls, came to be known as Monteur Heartfield, in recognition of his attitude to the world of art. Hannah Höch, who uniquely continued to produce montages throughout her long and varied life, said: "Our whole purpose was to integrate objects from the world of machines and industry into the world of art."

Many of the earliest Dada montages were used as covers and illustrations for magazines and manifestos of the movement. Their style was usually wildly anarchic, utilising many elements, some of which inevitably included photos of the Dada artists, juxtaposed with much apparently random newspaper text. From these initial experiments, the major figures in Dada photomontage emerged with vastly different styles and agendas. --http://homepage.ntlworld.com/davepalmer/cutandpaste/dada.html

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