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The curious images of John Stezaker

Like many collage artists before him, John Stezaker is fascinated by what happens when you bring together images to create unexpected meanings.  Edwardian postcards, black and white images of classic movie stars and found vintage photographs are sliced, overlapped and collaged in new and intriguing ways.
Stezaker is an established British photographer and artist, who teaches at the Royal College of Art but for whatever reason doesn’t exhibit very often.  The Whitechapel Gallery in East London will be holding his first major exhibition of his work between 29 January – 18 March 2011.
His work is both unsettling and humorous. He juxtaposes images to create ambiguous and surreal meanings that come together in the mind, in a similar way to when elements of a joke collide to make us laugh.
Placing a tourist postcard of a deep river gorge over the faces of a couple having a romantic moment shouldn’t work – but somehow it does. The sides of the ravine stand in for their faces while the postcard starts to hint that the chasm and river might have deeper emotional metaphors for the couple.
Like Hannah Höch, the German photomontage artist involved in the Dadaist art movement, John Stezaker limits himself to black and white, sepia and muted colours to visually hold his images together, and like Höch there’s also a very playful sense of portraiture in creating new identities by merging different faces together.
If you’re a regular browser of blogs, like myself, then you’ll have probably seen there’s been a renewed interest in collage and photo-montage recently. Maybe it’s because it’s easier now than ever before to combine digital images together, so perhaps we simply love to see visual jokes laid out in front of us?

Posted by author: Christian Lloyd
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6 thoughts on “The curious images of John Stezaker

  • I find photomontage a stimulating art form. I’ve never heard of John Stezaker or Hannah Hoch before. Thanks for bringing them to my attention.

  • There is an article on John Stezaker in this months BJP. Like Eileen I find the images unsettling more than humorous. Talking about cutting images up Stezaker is quoted as saying that “You can only get a feeling of the inviolable purity and sanctity of the emulsion of a photograph by violating it”. Interesting as Eileen says but not my personal cup of tea.

  • As a collage artist myself (both digital and traditional) I was happy to see this article highlighting collage and this particular collage artist. However, please note that although Hannah Hoch’s earliest collages were a black/white/sepia palette her later ones were quite colorful (as were her paintings). Perhaps you are thinking of Max Ernst? Another wonderful collagist, his collages were predominantly black/white/sepia. Again, thank you for shining the spotlight on this wonderful artistic medium.

  • I wonder if what we see in the collage is what is what happens in our heads on a daily basis, being subjected to a neverending stream of images in our highly visual culture: we can’t tell them apart and merge them in bizarre and surrealist ways. Just had a look at the BBC website. Photographs of civil unrest in Cairo (top left) are shown not far from a close-up of the ‘S’ symbol on a Superman outfit (right column). What on earth am I supposed to make of that?
    I personally like Stezaker’s work. Mild, harmless humour in a photograph is always refreshing. And there seems to be more to Stezaker’s work than meets the eye.

  • I think it’s fantastic, thoughtful work.I came across it in a great piece in the Independent. Some of it is funny,some is really quite haunting but all are beguiling!

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