Figure 3.17
David Hockney: Portrait of the Artist's Mother

3.2 Edges: displacements and grafts

In the early 1980s, a number of artists including David Hockney and Joyce Neimanas, began experimenting with making large scale images out of Polaroid SX-70 prints, much as the earliest photographers had "composited" large scenes from multiple negatives. In the early practice, much care was given to seamless registration of the images, but in the '80s revival, small jumps of viewing angle came to be valued, by none more so than by David Hockney. Hockney switched from SX-70 to regular 35mm negative-and-print and pasted the prints, hundreds of them in his larger compositions, onto a single background. Hockney reflected extensively on this process as connecting to the Cubist sense of multiple angles and especially of movement. These "multiples" convey a strong sense of movement, Hockney argued, in that you the viewer keep adjusting your imagined viewpoint as your eye travels from print to print. And of course by this means you can build up a single image that is many times wider in angle of view than the camera lens. (The viewing angle of a standard 55mm lens for a 35mm format camera is about 45 degrees. Wide angle lenses increase the angle of view to about 75 degrees without obvious distortion, but the human angle of view, with eye movement, is about 180 degrees.) This portrait of his mother illustrates the technique at close range; his famous multiple of Teresa Russell nude illustrates it at medium range, and the gigantic and spectacular "Pear Blossom Highway" shows its capacity for panorama (and desert shimmer). (I have used Phil Greenspun's picture of the work as exhibited in the Getty Museum to give a sense of scale. The lens is quite wide-angle. Photo © Phil Greenspun; good large reproductions of this and its European companion "Place Furstenberg" can be found on Mark Hardin's artchive.)

Greenspun's gallery view also smoothes out the discontinuities and blurs the edges of each individual piece. Up close, everything breaks down into multiple slightly misaligned segments. And as the up-close portrait of his mother makes clear, we may see from multiple angles, but we only see a slice, and the slices we see produce an incoherent, contradictory display. Our minds are severely stressed as we struggle to bring the pieces into the "good form" of a human face and to account for the apparent displacements--all assuming that this is trying to be a single portrait of a single individual made up of multiple shots taken on one day in one place and in a fixed pose. But photocollage more typically appropriates its fragments from disparate scenes, persons, even purposes and are used to make up an image that none of the original makers intended.

Jan Vermeer: Woman pouring milk; blurred and reduced photomosaic

Figure 3.18
Jan Vermeer: Woman pouring milk; blurred and reduced photomosaic

This blurring of edges explains why photomosaics look better when viewed from a distance or without glasses or blurred with a filter. Figure 3.18 was made from a photomosaic of Vermeer's famous painting "The Milkmaid." The original photomosaic can be viewed by clicking on the thumbnail; this activates a Dejavu plugin (which I hope you have) and allows you to zoom down to 50% or 25% to see how the image comes into view as the component image "tiles" of the mosaic cease to be processed as images. The thumbnail has had some Gaussian blur applied to further reduce edges. Here is another raw photomosaic for comparison. With reduction and blurring, you get this. In the photocollage we are concerned with, the component fragments never drop below the threshold of visibility; they produce their effects by being seen, and that means that what is important is not just what is in them, but where they are broken off.

Another illustration of the power of edges is in Nicholas Wade's concealed images, especially the portraits of Fechner, Hering, and Marr. These portraits can only be seen with blurred vision, as by standing 6 feet or more away or by looking over the top of your glasses.

Bernie Stephanus: b.55

Figure 3.19
Bernie Stephanus: b.55

Bernie Stephanus says on his web page that he has been making art for many years, but switching his style so much that he has never attempted to sell his work. His current enthusiasm is for scissors and popular magazine collage which he then scans or photographs and puts up on the Web in handsomely large reproductions. At present there are a very large number of very strong pieces, all done within the last two years. He attaches this statement of artistic objectives in a "FAQ" and it is well that he gives us some verbal clues as to his purposes, for he gives no titles to his pieces:

What is your artistic objective? I call these works mutations or grafts because I want to realise impossible transplantations in a different way than the cubists , dadaists and surrealists. I focalize on the borders between the pieces in order to obtain a real graft. At the beginning of this site, I only wanted to exhibit my collages, now (may 2000) I concentrate on a commentary on what and how the magazines (re)present reality. So these collages are not mere freudian fantasies but the result of a reflection on our world and on myself: dislocation and merging everywhere. Where are the borders?
Bernie Stephanus: b.47

Figure 3.20
Bernie Stephanus: b.47

Very well—but the distinction between Freudian fantasy and reflection on the world is often hard to draw when focusing on the use in advertising of the female (model's) body as the object of desire, and on the face, breasts, and hands, as in fact the greater part of these collages do. The first image—that of the kiss— which so neatly parallels the contours of the sporty car, could easily activate the old saw about how there are never just two people in bed together, or at least suggest an easy substitutability of either he, she, or both. Part of the technique, which is again illustrated in Figure 3.20, is to establish enough of a figure and outline so that we skip over the discontinuities to get at least a working rough sketch. The man's forearm and hand breaking out of the plane that always separates the model from us and extending a greeting still seems to be the model's right arm and hand! In effect the fragments morph together into a monster.

Bernie Stephanus: 81

Figure 3.21
Bernie Stephanus: 81

Stephanus's "commentary" is not exactly verbose nor, on the whole, does it seem targeted on particular adverts or corporations or ploys. An exception is Figure 3.21, which strongly evokes and makes bizarre the Benetton uses of racial innocence and touching intimacy. And in the midst of it is the almost ecstatically laughing image of a woman (mom?) perfectly matched for continuation of the skull line and splitting the child's face on a diagonal. For me, this utterly shatters the children's unselfconsciousness and makes scene appear to serve the pleasure of an adult puppeteer.

Shirin: from Nickel Clerks

Figure 3.22
Shirin Kouladjie: from Nickel Clerks

One of Hannah Höch's specialities was the unsettling or subversive graft and one of her favorite operations is to graft a head to the neck of another body (male to female, large to small, animal to human), and, within the head area, to graft eyes into faces as well as mouths and other facial parts. Arms and women's stockinged legs are other favorites. Shirin Kouladjie has put up several series of pieces exploring the possibilities of this kind of graft; Figure 3.22 leads to one such piece from "Nickle Clerks" (www.photomontage.com; Flash: 1999); see also the series "Documentary Thoughts" (Flash: 1999) and also "Seated and Profile"(Flash: 2000). Because these pieces look like grafts or rearrangements to the human figure, we try to see it as a single figure, not as a juxtaposition. This can produce the effect of metaphor in which an identity is put forth which is plainly false ("I was a morsel for a monarch") but is somehow to be understood as affording insight.

Romare Bearden: Rocket to the Moon (1971)

Figure 3.23
Romare Bearden: Rocket to the Moon (1971)

Throughout her long career, Höch used (photographs of) African masks, perhaps (in part) because they make geometrical asbtractions of faces and part because they juxtapose across cultures and styles of representation. Romare Bearden, an American artist of Afro-American descent (1913-1988), had of course his own associations with the masks and mask style and made use of them in a brilliant series of collages in the 1960s and 70s. These employ a number of Höch's tactics, including the split face and oversized hands. Figure 3.23 ("Rocket to the Moon (1971)" is a direct outgrowth and continuation of Dada cityscapes; though not large (about 22 x 32 cm.), it provides an "image of the age." I especially like the image of the rocket and moon pasted in at the top as a kind of afterthought. Bearden made a number of these "image of the age" collages (or image of the age in Harlem), usually larger, which evoke the dynamism and jumble of city life in the ghetto street.

Shirin Kouladjie: No. 7 from Documentary Thoughts

Figure 3.24
Shirin Kouladjie: No. 7 from Documentary Thoughts

Another effect that this sort of grafting can produce is caricature via the exaggeration or diminution of a part or human/human human/animal grafts, as in Figure 3.24. This too has a distinctly Höchian feel, partly because the basis (as with all the "Documentary Thoughts") is a period photograph and partly because Höch particularly had fun with formal dress, top hats, and other apurtenances of power and wealth. These collages function as critical commentary or satire because the photographs have a strong referential link to objects and persons in the world; they work, that is, by associating properties we associate with fish or top hats with the figure, not by adding certain shapes, colors, and textures. It is to this scale of visual form and representational content that we now turn.