Some notes on Photomontage and prominent photomontage artists..
Photomontage was borne out of the Dada movement in Berlin in 1916. Dada was started in Zurich Switzerland where a small group of artists and activists had gathered during the first world war. They used their creativity to to protest against the war, using irony, satire and improvisation to shock the public into recognising the contradictions of ‘civilised’ and ‘rational’ Europeans slaughtering each other in war. Dada art typically shows contempt for the established order and is often called ‘anti-art’.
Berlin dadaists were more politically orientated and had revolutionary social change in Germany as one of their main goals. John Heartfield (originally called Helmut Herzfelde) created one of the first photomontages for the cover of catalog for the ‘First International Dada Fair’. Photomontage was subsequently used a lot by Dada artists.
Photomontage was also used a lot by Russian Constructivists. The Russian Tsar was forced to abdicate in 1917 due to failures during the first world war. The Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, took control in late 1917. Russian civil war followed from 1918 – 1920, between the Red Army (the Bolsheviks) and allied governments supported Whites. The Whites ultimately failed and the Bolsheviks established a communist state (maintained through the suppression of dissent by violence and intimidation).
The Bolsheviks used propoganda posters to ‘sell’ communism to the people. New artistic styles were required for the new utopian society. Constructivism built on the previous abstract style of Suprematism. (Suprematism was devised around 1915 by Kasimir Malevich and used blocks of colour a ‘non-objective’ style of baring no representational relationship to the natural world. The term suprematism relates to “supremacy of pure feeling in creative art”).
The Constructavist style tied art to the industrial world, rejected self-expression and therefore fitted well with revolutionary propaganda. Graphic designers became artistic leaders.
Constructavists such as Varvara Stepanova and Alexander Rodchenko produced propaganda posters, designs for workers clothes and designs for government buildings.
In Russia, photography was revered because of its ability to produce depersonalized images which married well with communist collective ideals. Photomontage was therefore a natural tool for the Constructavist artists.
One of the Berlin Dadaists but best known for his later political art photomontages created from 1930 to 1938 exposing facism and the Third Reich.
Hannah Hoch was another Berlin Dadaists who used Photomontage. Höch explored the concepts of gender and the ‘New Woman’ in Germany society, presenting complex discussions around gender and identity.
A Russian Constructivist of the 1920s who used photomontage.
An advertisement for the Lengiz Publishing House sometimes titled “Books”, which features a young woman with a cupped hand shouting “книги по всем отраслям знания” (Books in all branches of knowledge), printed in modernist typography.
A Russian Constructavist.
On the lower left of her poster, under the phrase “through red glasses” (i.e. the world as seen by Bolsheviks), she drew three figures dressed in her prozodezhda (workers) costumes. The gender of the central, female figure is discernible only by the rounded line of her jaw and the slight fullness of her short hair. Their four anti-revolutionary white counterparts appear on the right side, dressed in upper-class clothes. Here the lone woman is strongly differentiated from the men, with round breasts, a tiny waist and wide hips. The female icon of those who see through red glasses is a productive worker no longer confined by conventional signs of femininity.
Later photomontage was adopted by surrealists who brought together disparate images to reflect the workings of the subconcious mind.
– Mutter/Tochter – mit Großmutter und Urgroßmutter
“In these pictures I unite four generations of the female line of my family, who represent a female chain. I began with my daughter and ended with her great-grandmother. As a contrast to the patriarchal system of inheritance, I wanted to show the matrilineal connection and the interaction between the generations: the young girl already has the old body, and the old woman still has the young body inside her. The aim is to ensure that this painful process remains visible.”