1 – John Stezaker
Stezaker collects old photographs in order to deface them in order to create something new and arresting – so says the Guardian in the review of the Sydney Biennial in which he exhibited in 2014. My tutor suggested looking at this work as it had relevance to what I was trying to achieve with my images in Assignment 2. I had started looking at montage and collage as a way of exploring the person inside the person that I was photographing, in this instance my older son. I had gone to the Hockney exhibition in London in 2017 and been really interested in his use of polaroid collages to make a whole image Also interesting were the montages of landscapes scenes and I had had this in mind when approaching A2. I still need to rework A2 as it was suggested that there was a distance between sitter and photographer, and I would like to go back to the original idea of the collage/montage to see if I can create what I was looking for at the time. Stezaker was suggested as a point of reference to look further at collage and the use of different techniques to make images more arresting.
I looked at this article and then at the images that are held online by the Tate Gallery. Stezaker made us of old movie stills and hand coloured postcards to merge them together to make a new image. The use of postcards and photographs over the top of portraits obscures the original and often the eyes are hidden behind the front image meaning that the eye of the viewer searches around for other things to focus on. The front image has some connection with the underlying photograph, through edges lining up or waves suggesting a confrontation. There is a symmetry and a tension to what he does and it is unnerving to see faces partly replaced by something solid such as a picture of a mountain slope. Our reaction is to connect with the eyes and when that doesn’t happen then there is a sense of something unresolved. “What I do is destructive, but also an act of deliberate passivity.” He does not shoot the images himself but uses them to create something else.
This image is of a woman whose face is obscured by an upside down postcard of a stone house with arches at the front. It was only when I read the notes attached that I realised that the edge of the house replaced the edge of her face and the arches made it look like a skull. It shows that I am not examining images closely enough so I looked at the others more closely.
I had picked up on the confrontational nature of this image with the man in a position of strength from the clenched hand on the desk. His face is obscured and the eye roams the frame looking at the whole. The breaking wave suggests a rising confrontation between the man and the woman – she has her back to the camera and appears to be clutching something in front of her, possibly as a defensive gesture. The huge wave crashing over the seafront of the postcard Eastbourne suggests that this is monumental.
This is interesting because as I completed a collage for Assignment 3 in which I used several photos of one place at different times of the day to suggest the passing of time and that this particular activity was an ongoing one at all times of day and night. I had not seen this particular image before I did the assignment and it was interesting to see how he had used the collage of Big Ben. From the Tate website:
“Stezaker has commented that The End was:
a response to the current conventions of conceptual art in England which was obsessed with photo sequences and chronology … for several years (between 1973 and 1976 approx) I collected all of the images I could find of the subject both in postcard form and also in films. This was the beginning of my collection of film stills. I discovered that Big Ben was a key image in British Cinema and became a favourite way of ending films – usually with the chimes of midnight. I incorporated one of this collection of cinematic images of Big Ben with the words ‘THE END’ superimposed over it into a later re-presentation of the postcard fragment as a kind of pictorial title label. (Letter to the author, 26 October 2007.)”
I was interested by the fact he was looking at the colour of the sky as well as the parts of Big Ben and not all the views are from the same place so the clock appears in various parts of the frame and different sizes. It makes it more interesting rather than the same viewpoint throughout, something to bear in mind for future works.
He clarified the difference between montage and collage: “Montage is about producing something seamless and legible, whereas collage is about interrupting the seam and making something illegible.”
2 – Annegret Soltau
The other artist suggested is Annegret Soltau who takes self-portraits then creates montages of her own body and face. These can remake faces in grotesque representation of a face in a similar way to how Picasso would have drawn faces with huge eyes or all features on one side of the face. In other work, she uses black thread sewn over to create sometimes delicate patterns on her face and body that change the way the viewer looks at it. The thread images from early works are much more accessible and delicate, and it is as though they have been drawn on rather than stitched but closer inspection reveals an enclosing of her within a frame of thread. It’s interesting to see a different style of altering photographs. Her later works when she still uses stiches to make a collage but I personally found them more inaccessible and my eyes/brain constantly tried to ‘correct’ them, to make eyes the right size and the in the right place. The stitching continues as a way of attaching the new parts to the original image.
This article explains more about her work, but I like the image that heads it. There is a pathos in this image of a woman resting her head on her arm on a table in a way that a weary mother might, or someone who is having trouble, with the arm outstretched and hand loosely clenched. One way of looking at it is that the threads encircle her like a protective shield; another is that they are chains binding her to the table and her life.
Another interesting approach to the fragmentation of the self. There are no wild eyes in this one and so I can relate to it better – the big eyes are problematic personally and looking at them make me uneasy.
Soltau is an interesting artist using different techniques to disrupt the normality of a photograph, and explores her identity through her self-portraits that are then amended in some way that can change the meaning and the viewing.