Posted by: lederniermot7 | October 26, 2018

Copy and Paste – Conventions of Photocollage

The concept of collage is an intriguing one: the manual manipulation of photographs and scrap to produce something new; something which can be called art. That manipulation and its import is figured in Elizabeth Siegel’s “Playing with Pictures”, and begs the question, why? Why distort these images in such a way? Why pull them apart just to piece them back together out of context? What could drive the desire to alter so drastically images considered first and foremost for their veracity, for their true depiction of life as it is?

One understanding of this can be looked at through the lens of those producing the collages themselves: the women of Victorian society’s upper ranks. The ease of creation prompted by this art form and access to the means of its production allow this to be quite the pastime for those confined to domestic spaces. Those albums are, nevertheless, as Siegel puts it “excluded from traditional art histories as examples of domestic busywork, private and contextual rather than public and autonomous (Society Cutups,  13-14).” This is interesting, the thoughts of this work as “private and contextual” art without any bearing of the self or its makers, as the very base of its creation is derived from images made for public use. As Siegel continues, to participate in such work “defined one as part of Society,” lending to the impression that such a form exists on a grander scale of reproduction and reinvention, not only in terms of the art world, but of emergent photographic practices as well.

In consideration of photocollage as a collaborative endeavor, not simply in terms of the consolidation of many physical pieces in formation of the whole completed image, but in terms of collage as a societal activity, the work becomes even more curious. While we can easily say it spans a gap between old Victorian ideals and new technology, it also can be said that it works to incorporate that meld into a thing of its own which does not and cannot be defined by either party. Within these collages, we see the literal dismemberment and the decontextualization of imagery reshaped and reimagined to reflect that blurring between the domestic and public spaces the Victorian world had become.


  1. I’m so glad you opened the conversation about Victorian photocollage! I am very intrigued by this art practice because it pulls upon different medias to decontextualize and reimagine images, as you discuss. I am particularly intrigued by your mention of photo collage as a “collaborative endeavor,” both because of its physical joining of various medias and because of its social status symbolism. Building off this awareness of form and meaning, I see the collaboration of medias as a method for incorporating a multiplicity of voices. We get multiplicity in numerous ways: the multiplicity of physical media (portrait photography, illustrations, paintings, etc.), of artists, of cultural allusions, and of narratives. It seems collage can be an appropriate container for facilitating re-imagination of existing visual culture.

    When you mention it can “incorporate that meld into a thing of its own which does not and cannot be drained by either party,” I wonder if creating engaging disparate medias/artistic attitudes/social spheres is best done through an art practice that reinvents comparisons into a new whole – a montage, a medley, a conversation. Photo collage exhibits the juxtaposition of form for creating commentary. These Victorian photo collage artists indeed created purposeful conversations and “scenes,” as discussed in class. I then ask, What allows images to form conversations with one another? Can it be as “simple” as placing arranging images together into a collage? Or does the artist need to create a dialogue between the images, an underlying commentary?

    What I appreciate about collages is invite ambiguity and offer multiplicity of reading interpretations. Based on my learnings from various film studies and art history courses, in the western art tradition, we are given a generally pointed direction for how to read “kinesthetically”. We read books from left-right, top-to-bottom in a chronological, linear order. We read visuals (photo, film, paintings, etc.) based on the depth cues an artist provides, navigating our way across the frame based on where the they have informed us to look first by their formal choices. There seems to be a hierarchy in what we read first and how we navigate our reading. Photo collage has the capability to unyoke that hierarchy because of its destabilizes a realism in an experimental way. I find this so fascinating! I am intrigued to further continue ruminating on this this artistic practice. Such artistic endeavor merits further critical examination on this veiled sphere of artists in Victorian upper-class society.
    -Madeleine Olson

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