Tag Archives: photomontage

Karen Knorr lecture

Karen Knorr India Song

© Karen Knorr

On Wednesday of this week, I went up to London to hear Karen Knorr’s inaugural lecture for the Royal Photographic Society’s Women in Photography group at the London College of Communication. It turned out to be the first day of the new term and students were able to attend. This meant that, keen as mustard, they ALL wanted to come along and the lecture hall was massively overfilled, to the point where I was surprised that Health & Safety did not become involved. There were people everywhere – sitting in the aisles, on the floor in front of the entrance, and in fact, anywhere another person could realistically be squeezed.

The event was introduced by Max Houghton, who runs the MA in Photojournalism & Documentary there. She soon passed over to Anna Fox (UCA) who has been a long term friend and collaborator with Knorr. The title of the lecture was Another Way of Telling: Storytelling and Documentary Practice and to be honest, I was a little disappointed with it. I had come along expecting to hear something about women’s place in documentary photography, but it seemed to be more of a retrospective look at her own practice of the sort she no doubt gives to audiences all over the world. That being said, her dissection of her work was interesting and I cam away with plenty of food for thought; just not the type that I was expecting.

Knorr stared with a list of photographers and books that have influenced her over the years, ranging from Berenice Abbott to Lisa Barnard. She explained that she and Fox were currently reprising a road trip that Abbott had made down the eastern seaboard of the USA in 1954, a year before Robert Frank’s better known version across the USA. Also mentioned as influences was Lynne Cohen’s Occupied Territory , Milagros de la Torre’s work on the victims of torture in Latin America, Mary Kelly’s Post-Partum Document, Martgha Rosler’s The Bowery and Vanitas, 2004, Zarina Bhimji’s installation work, Yellow Patch and Lisa Barnard’s Whiplash Transition. She then went through some of the main series of work that she has undertaken over the years, including Punks, Swiss Account, Belgravia, Gentlemen, Connoisseurs, Capital,  Academies, Ladies, India Song and Monogatari. (All can be seen via Knorr’s website: http://karenknorr.com/ )The earlier series were mostly social documentary morphing into tableaux and still life over time, but it was not until India Song that she became sufficiently well-known to be able to make a good living from her work, and so she has also been an academic throughout her career to pay the bills.

India Song, Monogatari and other associated series are visually stunning, using photomontaged animals and birds over historical building settings which exemplify the two countries, India and Japan. She photographed the animals and the locations separately, and then merged them together to reference folk tales and stories from the two regions, with the animals representing the spirits of the locations. Her recent work is characterised by vivid tonal colours and strange disconnects between the creatures and their backgrounds which are very striking and difficult to forget.

Over the course of the lecture and subsequent discussion with Anna Fox, we learned that Knorr’s mother had been a photojournalist in Germany, which was where she picked up her interest in photography, and that she finds being a woman to be an inconvenience to her photography, which she has had to overcome in order to achieve her work. She made difficult decisions about how to fit her work and family life together and one got the impression it had not all been plain sailing, but that she had been determined and assertive.

Knorr’s work is highly intellectual and full of symbolic references which take some time to unpick. This made some of her earlier work difficult for contemporaries to understand and people are only now coming back to revisit it with a more informed eye. I came away with a strong desire to delve into her work in more depth, but also that the lecture had somehow missed the point of both the occasion and its title.

Assignment 1 – Contextual Background

As with every single assignment I have done up until now, the subject of this one has become way more complicated than I had originally intended it to be. En route to my current position, I have been thinking about how our personal relationships with photographers can affect how we view their images, alongside how family memories and understood truths change over time as stories are gradually fragmented and reimagined by the people who keep them alive.

The background for the assignment started from a desire to explore old family photographs through crafting methods that are traditionally thought of as feminine. By declaring that arts such as sewing, paper-cutting and patchwork, for example, are crafts, Western (patriarchal) society has traditionally rendered them somehow less worthy than more masculine arts such as writing, painting, etc. As anyone who has visited a high level craft exhibition will know, the creativity, talent and execution of womens’ arts is obviously of a similar level to any so-called masculine pastime, but because many of the ‘crafts’ originated through the need for clothing and household goods, they have generally been considered as artisanal, rather than artistic. Things are changing, but slower than one might hope.

Historical background

Altered photographs have been around for almost as long as photography itself. Traditionally, the alteration has come in the form of photomontages and collages (the distinction between the two being defined here) (1), with many 20th century examples being overtly political in content, such as  Hannah Hoch‘s Dada pieces (2) advertising pieces and Peter Kennard‘s anti nuclear war images (3). However, I am more interested in how images can be physically altered using techniques which have come directly from the craft arena, such as embroidery on photographs (Maurizio Anzeri, (4) Shaun Kardinal, (5) Diana Meyer, (6) Julie Cockburn (7) and Hinke Schreuders (8) and paper crafts (Joe Rudko, (9) John Stezaker). (10)

These paper craft interventions really began by mistake, with the Farm Security Association’s mutilation of rejected negatives for their project on the Great Depression by famous photographers such as Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans by punching holes in the negatives. An excellent explanation of what happened and why can be found in Maev Kennedy’s (2018) review of the exhibition Killed Negatives (11) at the Whitechapel Gallery this year, which sadly I did not manage to see.  The holes were made to prevent them from being used, but they alter the originals and their addition produces another story, layered on top of the original purpose.

Bringing this forward, the duo Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin used a reversed technique in People In Trouble Laughing Pushed To The Ground, (12) which took images from the Irish Troubles which had been made for news organisations, and which had subsequently been catalogued using different coloured dots pasted on the photographs. Broomberg & Chanarin’s project looked underneath those dots to find the random world of minutiae which occurred around the events which were the subjects of the original photographs.

Another method of altering images is to rearrange the elements of photographs, and the work of Kensuke Koike, and in particular Single Image Processing (Koike, 2018)(13,14) has been a crucial precursor to this assignment. Koike began by taking found photographs and carefully cut elements out and then rearranged them to make visually interesting comments on the originals. The integrity of the original is retained, as it is all still part of the new photograph. I wish to come back to this principle in a later section of this blog post. (see below), but in the meantime, it was frustration at my inability to cut photographs cleanly by hand that made me go out and buy the Silhouette Cameo cutting machine, which has opened up a host of possibilities for my work in this area. Some previous posts detailing my progress can be seen here.

https://hollyocadic.wordpress.com/category/coursework/part-1-the-constructed-image/preparation-for-assignment-1/

The final artist who has been important in driving my thinking has been Pippa Drylaga. She is primarily a paper artist, who produces beautiful delicate pieces of work, but alongside this she explores paper cutting and print making in different media.  I found her series  Forgotten Moments of Someone Else’s Past (15) while I was looking at her other work, and it uses the same techniques that I am exploring on photographs from an album she bought at a second-hand shop. It is fascinating to see how the cut images differ from their originals, simply because she has made patterns of the background to the unknown people.

Pippa Drylaga screenshot

Fig. 1 Elsie, Upper Hills, 1930’s (s.d.)

[This is also of interest at a design level, and is something I may come back to later. Often, a pattern of cuts on an image completely obscures the subject, but brings out the colours of the photograph in wonderful abstract ways. Three of my own examples are shown below, as illustration.]

IMG_5980

Fig. 2 Cut grid pattern. (2018)

IMG_5979

Fig. 3 Cut leaf pattern. (2018)

IMG_5978

Fig. 4 Cut cubes pattern. (2018)

Some thoughts on altering photographs

John Stezaker, another collage artist, said in a Guardian article recently, ‘cutting a photograph can feel like cutting through flesh‘ (Guardian, 2014) (16) There is no doubt that it is not as straightforward as cutting a plain piece of paper. The photograph is imbued with meaning and links us to our past and that of our family. I feel the same when cutting pages from a book or a map; spoiling something of value, however notional. It needs to be done with care and an acknowledgement of the feelings of the viewer about the photographer and the subject, whether that be a person or a scene.

Most of the artists and photographers I mention above have been working with ‘found’ photographs, where they have no connection with the photographer or subject, and even so, they treat them with respect and try not to waste them. In my own case though, I am working with photographs from my partner’s family archive, and therefore the potential for causing hurt and offence is more immediate.  To give a little background, my father-in-law was an enthusiastic but not particularly accomplished photographer, who collected literally thousands of images during his lifetime. From what I can see, he never threw any of his less successful images away, and instead indexed and filed them carefully away in boxes and albums.

Following his death early this year, his children had the not inconsiderable task of sorting out these images, and I offered to do some initial weeding to make the task easier for them. The photos I have acquired consist of snaps of holiday locations, flowers and gardens, events long in the past and some of the most out of focus or over/underexposed pictures of family. I have been careful to steer clear of anything that could potentially have local history or sentimental family value. Using these as a starting point, I have tried to limit my early explorations to the least interesting ones, and to keep better images for later. Wherever possible, images with members of the family have not been used, except for a couple that specifically chose to consider the importance of the face to an alteration (post here) (17)

At a recent study day where I was presenting my work, a couple of people suggested that what I was doing to the images was destructive, and even ‘brutal’. That was never the intention. Right at the start, I explained to my in-laws that I wanted to make something interesting out of the most mundane of the collection and they were happy with that idea. So far, I believe that I have stayed true to that ambition.

Having said that, there is a whole area of study to be explored around appropriation of photographs, and the ethics and emotional aspects of repurposing family photographs, with their innate connection with our understanding of our family’s past and their ability to stand in for memories. Tinkering with this makes the possibility of accusations of misappropriation and re-writing history possible. However, by only using images from the archive without people, I can largely avoid these issues, and I see this assignment work as fitting more closely to the type of collage work of artists such as Joe Rudko, (9) who tears up old and found photos to make interesting  geometric patchwork style pieces.

Figures

Fig. 1 Drylaga, P. (s.d.) Elsie, Upper Hills, 1930’s. [Screenshot from artist’s website] At: https://www.pippadyrlaga.com/forgottenfaces (Accessed 27/02/2020)

Fig. 2-4 Woodward, H. (2018) Cut shapes on found photographs [Altered photographs] In possession of: the author.

References

Anzeri, M. (2018). Maurizio Anzeri. At: http://maurizioanzeri.com/ (Accessed 14/08/2018)

The Approach (2018) John Stezaker. At: https://theapproach.co.uk/artists/john-stezaker/images/ (Accessed 14/08/2018)

The Art Story (n.d.) Hannah Höch: German Photomontage artist. At: https://www.theartstory.org/artist-hoch-hannah.htm (Accessed 14/08/2018))

Cardinal, S. (2013) Alterations (Found and Unbound), 2013. At: http://shaunkardinal.com/2013/alterations-found-and-unbound/ (Accessed 14/08/2018)

Cartmell, P. (n.d.) Difference Between a Montage & a Collage. At:  https://www.ehow.com/facts_5705493_difference-between-montage-collage.html  (Accessed 14/08/2018)

Drylaga, P. (2018) Forgotten Moments of Someone Else’s Past. At: https://www.pippadyrlaga.com/forgottenfaces (Accessed 14/08/2018)

Kennard, P. (2018) Peter Kennard. At: http://www.peterkennard.com/photomontage/  (Accessed 14/08/2018)

Kennedy, Maev (2018) ‘Censored images of 1930s America to go on show in London.’ In: The Guardian [online] At:  https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/may/06/censored-images-of-1930s-america-to-go-on-show-in-london (Accessed 14/08/2018)

Koike, K. (n.d.) Single Image Processing. At: https://www.kensukekoike.com/project/single-image-processing/ (Accessed 14/08/2018)

Lachowskyj, C. (2014?) ‘Nothing Added, Nothing Removed.’ In: Lensculture. At:  https://www.lensculture.com/articles/kensuke-koike-nothing-added-nothing-removed (Accessed 14/08/2018)

Meyer, D. (n.d.) Diana Meyer. At: http://www.dianemeyer.net/ (Accessed 14/08/2018)

O’Hagan, S. (2014) ‘John Stezaker: ‘cutting a photograph can feel like cutting through flesh’. In: The Guardian. [online] At:
https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/australia-culture-blog/2014/mar/27/john-stezaker-sydney-biennale (Accessed 14/08/2018)

People in trouble laughing pushed to the ground, Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin  (2014) Interview by Book Jockey (Olmo González) [online] At: https://vimeo.com/97337922 (Accessed 14/08/2018)

The Photographers’ Gallery (n.d.) Julie Cockburn. At: https://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/print-sales/explore-artists/julie-cockburn (Accessed 14/08/2018)

Rudko, J. (2018) Joe Rudko. At: http://www.joerudko.com/ (Accessed 14/08/2018)

Schreuders, H. (2018) Hinke Schreuders. At: http://www.sudsandsoda.com/work.html (Accessed 14/08/2018)

Woodward, H. (2018) ‘More experiments for assignment 1.’ In: Holly’s Digital Image & Culture Blog, 11 July At: https://hollyocadic.wordpress.com/2018/07/11/more-experiments-for-assignment-1/ (Accessed 14/08/2018)

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.

Subject

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. https://edition.cnn.com/2018/05/20/politics/trump-evolving-public-defense-russia/index.html

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

References

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: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25609147?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Kreig, Gregory (2018) The Trump team’s amazing, evolving Russia defense [online] At: https://edition.cnn.com/2018/05/20/politics/trump-evolving-public-defense-russia/index.html (Accessed on 4 June 2018)

Widewalls (2016) Photomontage – The History and Meaning of a Photo Composition. [online] At: https://www.widewalls.ch/photomontage-art/ (Accessed on 4 June 2018).