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May 05, 2004

Photomontage, Classic and Postmodern

One area of fine art photography that I've always been fascinated by, but have had little direct exposure to (beyond the most obvious political and commercial applications), is photomontage. Some of this limited exposure is a result of my skepticism, because of the rash of kitschy digital attempts at photographic collages and composites in recent years (and there was a lot of bad photomontage pre-digital, as well). But I've always been interested in collages and composites in art generally, and montage techniques in film have held my interest going all the way back to Russian filmmakers like Vertov and Eisenstein. So maybe it's time for me to revisit this area.

Scott Mutter is one of the most well known photomontagists, because of the highly obvious cleverness of his most famous images, to the point that several of them appear on posters. He's been at it for over 30 years, and I'm impressed by his technique and the thought process behind some of his images, once you get past the air of novelty...even some of the crowd pleasing ones are fun to look at (though there are definitely a few images that are as kitschy as the worst M.C. Escher). For example, I lived in Chicago years ago and remember all the controversy over installing lights at Wrigley Field, so I always enjoyed his photomontage involving fans shining flashlights onto the baseball field.



"Fans Shed Light on the Game" (above) and "The Forest" Scott Mutter images

The Catalan artist Guillem Ramos-Poquí takes a much more academic and avant-garde approach to photomontage in order to (according to the artist's statement) " [explore] different kinds of visual metaphor and other tropes as a means to defamiliarize the familiar and to familiarize us with the ideas and sensations that are new and at the edge of everyday consciousness. This poetic and metaphorical approach seeks to make unexpected links between disparate experiences in order to express new social and cultural meanings - about alienation in our present world order and search for new kinds of integrity and harmony."

Unfortunately, those words signify a whole lot of jargon underlying some of Ramos-Poqui's projects and thoughts about them, but there's a highly fertile creative spirit fueling many of his projects, and I can (mostly) get past the jargon to enjoy some of the more interesting ones. I liked his early collages from the late 1960's, and in general his mixed-media projects (such as "The Sleep of Reason") seem to employ images along with other media in the service of his ideas (which aren't terribly groundbreaking) in the most interesting ways...most of the straight photomontages, such as the portraits of philosophers meant to illuminate his provocative thesis regarding portraiture being "one of the dumbest art forms there is", don't do a lot for me, unless I'm missing out on some heavy-handed irony.


Ramos-Poqui digital photomontage, from Invaders series

In a nice bit of symmetry, Ramos-Poqui has his own "magical forest" photomontage as Mutter does, except in Ramos-Poqui's case, he uses the metaphor of the magic forest to produce a self-portrait, which is probably my favorite of his digital work, as it feels considerably more personal and less theoretical.


"The Magic Forest" Self-Portrait, Ramos-Poqui photomontage

I'm still wrestling with the effectiveness of photomontages, beyond their obvious visual appeal, in conveying complex ideas and an actual exchange between disparate images, relative to, say, more serial arrangements of images such as diptychs and triptychs. Theoretically, photomontage should represent a more organic juxtaposition and combination of images, though in practice, confusion is just as likely as any sort of organic entity. More for me to think about, I guess.

(There was an artist my alternative portraiture prof introduced us to last year who is working with alternative processes and collage with interesting results, but I can't find anything of hers online apart from this old image, unfortunately)

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I've also been fascinated by montage but haven't played with it much myself yet. The Ferguson image might be the nudge I needed to explore alt-process montage possibilities. Found one more of her works at the MFA:


Just completed a series of alt-process images which might be thought of as diptychs, flipped negs printed in various processes and bound in an accordion book.


Posted by: john at May 5, 2004 8:00:13 AM

I have experimented with photo montage using several polaroid transfer images (the smaller ones) to create a larger image. Sometimes I find myselft encroaching on Warhol's domain (i.e. electric chairs) where I repeat an image... under the guise of some deep post-modern banter ;-)

Here's an example of a NON-polaroid montage I did (first digitally and then printed/pasted):

Posted by: Andrew Miller at May 6, 2004 9:51:46 AM

Hi Robert. Thanks for providing the link to your site (dpreview comments about my b&w). I have bookmarked it and will come back (getting late).


Posted by: T. Rotkiewicz at May 10, 2004 12:15:36 AM

While researching a coming show by Andrew Moore and Lisa Kereszi here in NYC, I ran across Moore's site, which includes a montage section. More formal and slicker, I think, than what you've highlighted here. Perhaps from using a digital montage process than traditional darkroom, I suspect. Regardless, thought you'd be interested.

Posted by: Todd W. at May 22, 2004 11:38:12 PM

Photo Montages are a great evolution in photography, i've just purchased one myself and I am very impressed.

Posted by: Photo Montage at Mar 23, 2011 8:38:38 AM