Category Archives: Project 1 – The Origins of Photomontage

Exercise 1.3 – Collage

It has taken me an age to get to grips with this exercise, and I think the issue has been my assessment of myself as being unable to ‘make art’ There is something about the exercise that is asking me to push my creativity outside my comfort zone, and away from photography into the sort of art which requires one to have an idea and consciously put it together in a way that is coherent. Any painter has to do this for every single piece they make, but for a photographer it seems to require a leap of faith in my abilities which I am not sure I can make.

The exercise cries out for a political subject, but maybe that is just because I went to a lecture a few years ago by Peter Kennard and recently looked at Barbara Kruger’s work. There are many other possibilities too, such as David Hockney’s multiple images referencing how we really look at the world, and multiple exposure work, such as that of Man Ray and El Lissitzky. I found this excellent article explaining the history and different types of work here (Widewalls, 2016)

It is not an exercise where one can simply start taking photographs to see where it will go. The exercise asks for 4-6 images, and so there needs to be a story rather than a single image. There are many variables to consider, such as subject, process, collecting appropriate images, copyright issues, and the practical one of whether to make the results digitally or by scissors and glue.


I am pretty clear about the subject I want to cover, which is the deliberate destruction of the concept of truth which we see happening before our eyes at present, and in particular the role of Donald Trump, President of the USA, in this disintegration. To the casual observer, Trump seems to believe wholeheartedly whatever comes out of his mouth at any particular moment, despite the clear proof that he said (and believed) exactly the opposite last week. A particular instance of that is the changing story in relation to the letter which was supposedly written by  on Air Force 1 on date, and which initially Trump denied any knowledge about. As time has gone on, his story has changed again and again, and it now appears that Trump wrote the letter himself. Details as they stand today can be viewed here, but they might have changed again by tomorrow.

Testing out whether the effect of deliberate photomontage works using Photoshop, I produced this image, using a news photo I downloaded. However, I will want to use free stock images for the main event, as I suspect this one might be subject to copyright, and I am not at all clear on the copyright position of altered copyright images.Trump, West Palm Beach, USA - 02 Mar 2018

As you can see, it works. So, potentially I could do a series using this style of montage. However, I have just been reading  Sabine Kreibel’s essay ‘Manufacturing Discontent: John Heartfield’s Mass Medium‘ and a very good point is made in it that the physical acts of cutting, tearing, reassembling and ‘suturing together the story’ have a symbolic meaning which is absent from purely digital work, or at least my digital work.

My initial efforts, using Photoshop and current news photos are shown below.

Although they are heading in the right direction, they still seem far too neat, and it is clear to me that a physical intervention is required to create the right sense of  increasing collapse. I therefore decided to produce a conceptual piece, using eqipment I have around my study and this was the result.

The demise of truth, 2016-2018


Kreibel, Sabine (2009) ‘Manufacturing Discontent: John Heartfield’s Mass Medium’. In New German Critique, No. 107, Dada and Photomontage across Borders (Summer, 2009), pp. 53-88. Also online at:

Kreig, Gregory (2018) The Trump team’s amazing, evolving Russia defense [online] At: (Accessed on 4 June 2018)

Widewalls (2016) Photomontage – The History and Meaning of a Photo Composition. [online] At: (Accessed on 4 June 2018).

Exercise 1.1 – Hannah Whitaker and Layering

It is suggested that we look at the work of Esther Teichmann, Corinne Vionnet, Idris Kahn and Helen Sear and then produce 6-8 images using similar layering techniques. I have looked at Teichmann, Vionnet and Sear before, so had intended that Idris Kahn should be the subject of this post. I’d heard of him, but not seen any of his works, which turned out to be fascinating. But then, coincidence intervened and I am never one to ignore coincidence. I happened to pick up this article by Hannah Whitaker in this month’s Objectiv magazine, which muses on a line of thought I am exploring on the ontology of digital photography, and then came across her name again later that same day, when I was leafing through Charlotte Cotton’s (2015) Photography is Magic. Her work is very appealing to me, especially the patchwork style images, such as those shown below. So my 500 word post on a photographer’s work will be on her.

Hannah Whitaker is an American photographer, who came into the public view while she did her MFA at the International Center for Photography, New York in 2006. She is also a curator and a prolific writer about photography. Her images fall somewhere between photography and graphic design, and despite their appearance they are apparently all made using analogue processes. Using a 5×4″ camera, she inserts paper screens into the camera and then does multiple exposures to achieve the very layered look that much of her work incorporates. It is a massively complex way of achieving her signature look, but the physicality of the paper inserts often intrudes onto the image in a way that would not be possible if they were made entirely digitally. The images strongly resonate with both traditional and modern quiltmaking techniques to produce slightly off-kilter geometric patterns which I find very aesthetically pleasing. She herself says that many of them are influenced by the Bauhaus movement (and particularly the work of Anni Albers) and the Gee’s Bend Quiltmakers Group, both of which use a mix of traditional and modern patterns and colours.

Whitaker says that she enjoys playing with the materiality of the image and how it can be altered, and her processes involve a great deal of pre-thought and preparation.

I started thinking about ways that I could relinquish control and play with that loss of control as a subject in the work,” Whitaker tells TIME, “I keep going back to ‘what can I do in this space?’ and working within that field of possibility.” (Time, 2016)

Somehow her work is redolent of the experimental Thomas Ruff images, while at the same time referencing traditional women’s arts in the execution and final appearance of her work. She also uses a technique of punching holes in her images and projecting light through them in a similar way to Helen Sear,  and both of these methods are ones I would like to try myself. Of course, I don’t have an analogue 5×4″ camera, so I will be doing it just as laboriously in Photoshop. At present, however, my ideas greatly exceed my ability and the whole process is ludicrously slow.



Exercise 1.1

We are then asked to make a series of 6-8 images using layering techniques.For this exercise, I am using the following image, which I made last year, as a base.

P1630426-3Firstly, I overlaid it with between one and three layers of circles produced in Photoshop, and they were moved about to produce different patterns. I like the randomness of the effect which is achieved. After that, I tried inserting layer masks in between different layers to produce other effects. I think the main take-away from this exercise is that one can do pretty much anything in Photoshop if you are prepared to spend enough time setting up the necessary processes.

Some of these work better than others, and there is definitely a point where one can go over the top. I am most happy with the first three, which seem to have both a clear intention and a pleasing result.


Cotton, Charlotte (2015) Photography is Magic. New York: Aperture.


First experiments with layers, pt 2

I was keen to extend some of the ideas I had yesterday and firstly tried an image with a 3D layer covered by an ordinary one. Yes, it does work! And actually, the image has a certain charm of its own even without the 3D glasses.  It’s better if the glasses are worn back to front, and I am also seeing that if one moves viewpoint, the image appears to move too, which is an added bonus.


After that I looked at the concept of having more than one 3D layer, and that works too. I think I’m going to be doing some serious research on this as there is potential here. The only negative is that after a while of looking at these images, one begins to feel a bit sick!



First experiments with layers for Project 1

Today has been very productive. Not only have I made a test version for a new style of book – the carousel or star book, but I have done some interesting work in Photoshop using 3D layers. Here’s a quickie of the book. In due course, I plan to make a much more delicate version using photographs and washi papers, but it certainly has some potential.

Below are a series if images I made using layering and 3D effects. The original three images used, were these:

and below are a number of different iterations, each more complex than the last.


Anyone reading this will need old-fashioned 3D glasses to see the last two properly, not the newer version for cinemas. The effect though is fascinating – the figure either seems to stand out or hang back from the background, depending on which way round you wear the glasses, and I am now keen to find out whether one can layer on top of the 3D effect to give the appearance of a layer in front of the image.