I’ve been aware of John Heartfield’s work for a long time now. His photomontages struck a chord with me many years ago. They are both powerful and poignant but I have to recognise that I may well be judging them from a Post WW2, late 20th century perspective. I’m sure they were impactive in their day, and the Nazis must have hated him! However, when we look into any historical context we have the benefit of hindsight. The image below was made in 1932 but we know what happened in the years that followed…
The FiP workbook also invites us to look at the work of Heartfield’s contemporary, Hannah Hoch. While Hoch’s work often commented on the role of role women in German society in the early 20th century she would also direct her art to critiquing the state. The image below shows the head of state and his finance minister in bathing costumes, lifted from a newspaper and juxtaposed against an embroidery pattern. Germany was going through a tense and rebellious period and this simple artistic act mocks the two men as out of touch with the lives of many German people. The use of an embroidery reference also serves to emphasise the distance between the politicians and the work and lives of women.
Both Hoch and Heartfield were part of the Dada artistic group. For Dadaists art reflected the difficult and turbulent times in which they found themselves. Their art didn’t hold back in its acknowledgement of the everyday street violence, food shortages and the failings of politicians. For many the photomontage was the best way to express their feelings through art. The photographic element brings a sense of ‘truth’ while the juxtapositioning added a dream-like quality. In discussing the superior quality of photography over painting in the political commentary in Dadaism and of Heartfield’s work in particular, Hughes argues that:
“Only the realism of the photograph, its ineluctably factual content, made his work credible and, to this day, unanswerable.” (Hughes, 1991: 73)
So, having done the ‘pre reading’ for this exercise, I set about making my own work. Leafing through magazines and newspapers I became a bit frustrated as nearly all of the larger images, that would serve as the background, had text imposed on them – it’s something magazine editors can’t resist. Also and more significantly, I was struggling to come up with an idea.
What I really wanted to do was emulate this early 20th century German political photomontage I’d just researched. I am a political animal at heart and I wanted to express something about how I feel. Magazines and newspapers would provide me with found images and as these were failing me I decided to look elsewhere; to the internet where a wider range of images was available.
So, with a range of printed photographs, a pair of scissors and a ‘Prit stick’ I set about creating this, my own piece of political photomontage. And if anyone is struggling to understand it, it’s not about Brexit!
Robert Hughes (1991) ‘The Shock of the New’ Thames & Hudso