A montage of photographic realities


From the very apparent ‘combination printing’ to the more concise collage and the even more fluent occurring of the montage, photographic pursuits beyond the individuality too have spanned out equally unique ideas in being for quite some time. The draw is one from an area of greater reach, one that attends to all the arts in their own definite demand. And thus equally conforming to the specific understanding of it in the photographic realm is this 19th century exploration of what is an art in itself, and in such standings that only validate further the dimension of its prevailing as one of greater artistry indeed.

The alluding of it even within the photographic expanse is one spanning as diverse a range of considerations like the composite identity of it. Referring to the whole associated emergence in combining different photographs to deliver a wholly new specimen has been this evoking of the photomontage term in the modern context. Consider however the traditional outlining in combination printing and the difference would not manifest in much strikingness. In playing along the same ideals of conjuring up in the end a different vision as well as also in the history of emergence, combination printing and photomontage are by and large the same thing.

In fact so ‘liberal’ has been photomontaging in its ‘evolutionary basis’ that it not just draws upon an existing precedent for its own establishing but also is as welcoming of what follows as a result of technological evolution indeed. Allowing also for digital bringing together of images into one through options in software editing is what adheres still to the photomontage recognition. This technique might be more properly an occurring as compositing in professional terms but the idea driving this mode of what is not so much photographic itself but rather an extension of that identity is consistent indeed with the intention of photomontages. Through the aids in cutting and rearranging and overlapping, a collage of photos is created in different techniques of deriving to ultimately stem as the same assertion in whatever term of its referring.

The contemporary understanding of a photo collage or the photomontage is very definitely of a French reputation, as far as the etymology of them is concerned. As 19th century names of an earlier concept almost as old as photography itself, both still dwell on that same essence of what is combination printing indeed of images, albeit in different techniques of processing. Tracing therefore the first extant examples of what would be an emergence out of either of such identities would lead us upon the common trail to a mid 19th century example. The first of these explorations emerges as a 1857 ‘compilation’ by the English art photographer Oscar Rejlander. Titled ‘The Two Ways of Life’, this pathbreaking precedent set in photography was followed rather quickly by the 1858 image of ‘Fading Away’ availing out of the pictorial photographic sensibilities of Henry Peach Robinson.

Of course these were availed out of the then existing understanding in combination printing, with the more technical happening of the montage not manifesting until at least half a century later. And despite the effect induced out of either being one of a differently composed image, coherent mostly even when in an unconventional kind, combination printing would still be- and ironically somewhat- a bit more ‘technical’. Combination printing made use of two or more negatives to achieve this purpose in a composite picture and is very evidently a more nuanced call upon the assertions of the photographic eye.

Attending therefore individually to each of the photos in careful consideration so as to make a sightly combination out of them, though not intending in any way to pass off as a single original image is what combination printing and by extension photo collages has been. In fact that is the appeal of montaged photos that allow it to retain the virtue of originality even when making new art out of them, of course unless intended otherwise. And yet even in their same premise of being, combination printing tended to be way more hard work than its more contemporary ‘spin off’ of the photomontage.

Skill though is still vital when it comes to the more convenient way of modern day photo combining as montages. The earlier issues in terms of good exposure and proper scaling and consistency of lighting might have been well combated but one still requires a good deal of artistic vision to know what would work in togetherness. Even when the idea might indeed be to standout and present a contrast- like it commonly is with even the first of such specimens arising in such context, it still is important that the individual images sync well with each other. Otherwise, what would emerge as the whole outcome of such deliberate process in conjoining would not be a residing in the flair of art and would occur very chaotically as artifice instead.

What emerged as instances of photomontage in that definite alluding of its prominence continuing more than a century later had been some assertion of the mid 1910s. Attributable to Germans John Heartfield and George Grosz would be this experimentation in photomontaging that they undertook in 1916 as pasting together different pictures. That though isn’t by any account an origin of the more generic but special still understanding of what collages are across all avenues of art. What Heartfield and Grosz could be acclaimed for popularising therefore would be creating combinations of photographs specifically as a single whole. But even in this narrower dimension of their recognition, this ‘version’ of their nationality came to be a particular winner during the years of the first World War that Germany lost as a country.

What arose as a very emotional element during the period of World War I would be such explorations in combining photos that would specifically assert as photomontage postcards. While fantasy versions of them had already been popular in an England and its territories of the Victorian era and the subsequent Edwardian era, they hadn’t yet been as relevant elsewhere. This narrative though changed by quite an extent of measure since 1915 when the prevalence of the war time situation saw photographers in France and Germany and Austria and Hungary stir up quite the emotions by the keen awareness of their art indeed. And thus emerged a profusion of photomontage postcards as yearnings for a reality that seemed far away at that point of dwelling in conflict.

Evoking indeed in the depictions of photos of soldiers on one spectrum and the images of their loved ones and families on the other, these postcards managed to achieve for the photomontage identity its name as well as popularity. In fact the end of the war saw indeed mass popularity avail to the term first, followed as well by an obviously stirred interest in its artfulness. And thus set in the modern day era of what were earlier combination prints, with Heartfield particularly continuing to set one trend after the other in this field of his reimagined innovation.

It would not take much longer for photomontage to transcend the emotional nature of its existence and fit in instead pretty much every scope of what concerns the greater human existence. As curations in satire and even protest which though had always been a theme of its very emergence in character, with the very German furthering of its essence being an availing out of the Dadaists, the artistic understanding of photomontage surely isn’t one exclusively reserved for only that form of exploration. It in fact is an art within the photographic unfurling that aligns more accurately to reality, albeit in much irony.

While a displeasure directed at combination printing but extending ‘in principle’ also to photomontage, this viewing of photos not in the exact translation of reality but as constructed versions of them even when they aren’t exactly construed as such seemed to take out much of the artistic quality from this way of its creating. Also ‘contested’ therefore under the unethical expression of photograph manipulation has been this nevertheless skilled undertaking that risks though indeed very high a chance in misrepresentation.

As identities in the derivative work range of alluding at times, photomontages do emerge as tricky displays of art that can exploit as well as be exploited itself in that very instance of occurring. That however has not been reason enough to lessen any bit of its popularity as the extensively explored and even accentuated means of its present day expression prove. No wonder digital techniques at creating montages of pictures has been as efficiently developed long after speculations about the ethicality of the concept had been continuing. Equally worth mentioning would also be the other ‘mediums’ through which photomontage has come to find distinction, most essentially as being a necessary element of the scrapbooking form of art.

With such thumping popularity to drive it forward, photomontaging indeed has amassed an artistic reputation that speaks for itself. In fact as something coming to be, in some way or the other, out of the very first darkroom printing attempt itself, creating montages of photos or more literally ‘mounting the photos together’ has been an inherent property of the photographic art itself. And while it indeed is more than true that photomontage makes for better opportunities in overriding the very noble spirit of what characterise the arts in its any form, it also is even more beneficial a residing upon which photography can emphasise its reality of being indeed as real an art rather than being more identifying in the technical exploits of humankind.