Research into Photo Montage & Cubism

31/7/12 – The Image of the Skull in Photography and Photo Montage
Background Research: The Starn Twins

I’ve decided to conduct research into the Starn Twins in order to understand different techniques, styles and methods involved with photography, which will assist with the development of the exhibition.

The Starn Twins are two contemporary photographers who have used different techniques and materials, which provides a different perspective of photography or digital media. According to the Museum of Contemporary photography, Mike and Doug Starn have used various materials in order to create collages or photo montages, which manipulates the appearance of the original image.

The Museum of Contemporary Photography also explains that “wood, glass and transparency film” is used for the development of the photographs, which have been displayed in other contemporary art space worldwide. The website also articulates the actual display of the photographs, which includes “scotch tape and push pins to attach to the gallery walls” (Museum of Contemporary Photography: Doug & Mike Starn)

In comparison, Keith Mitnick argues that the Starn Twins deconstruct the original photograph into separate pieces or segments, which are then attached with masking tape. One could argue that the Starn Twins provide a completely different interpretation of the photograph and the different segments do feature an abstract quality, which transforms a traditional medium into a contemporary art form.

Mitnick quotes ” The Starn Twins amplify the materiality of photographs”, which may suggest that the artists highlight the tactile quality of each image or photograph. The viewer is also invited to observe the photograph as an object or form, which is used to construct another image. (Mitnick, 2008 p.147)

In contrast to Mitnick’s argument, Silvio Gaggi explains that the Starn Twins capture modern or classical artworks within the gallery space, which are replicated through digital technology and photography. The twins use collage as a form of representation, which may revitalise the original image within a contemporary format.

Gaggi also highlighted the similarities between the Starn Twins and the works of Pablo Picasso, who also experimented with collage. The Starn Twins and Picasso feature similar methods or techniques through the arrangement of each image or photograph. Gaggi also mentions “analytical cubism”, which is a certain style that was used by Picasso and other artists from the Cubist movement. (Gaggi, 1997 p.32)

Pablo Picasso, Goats Skull, Bottle and Candle, 1881 – 1973

Cubism, Pablo Picasso and Analytical Cubism

Cubism was a part of the Modernist art movement, which was directed by Pablo Picasso who is one of the most influential artists who explored elements of cubism. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, many Cubist painters used geometrical shapes, patterns and compositions, which also features a “2-dimensional” effect.

However, Michael Beli explains that “Analytical cubism” involved deconstructing the original image or form into basic ‘shapes’, forms and compositions in order to create a different perspective. In regards to Gaggi’s argument that I have previously mentioned, photo montage or collage does feature a close resemblance to Cubism, especially the works of Picasso. (Beli, 1980 p.221)

The Starn Twins have also created similar shapes and compositions though a photographic medium, which formulate other images or representations. One could argue that the photo montages feature abstract and geometrical compositions through the placement of each photograph.

The Skull in Cubism and Photo Montage 

The Starn Twins and Picasso have explored the image of the skull through painting or photo montage, which questions whether these particular art forms alter one’s own perspective of death?

The Starn Twins have appeared to have deconstructed a blurry image of a skull, although the torn edges actually adds a tactile quality to the overall image. The viewer is invited to observe the skull and the fragmented pieces within the image, which also provides a dark element to the photo.

The photo montage also encourages one to view the skull as a 2-dimensional image through the abstract nature of the photograph. In the modern-day of age the skull has become a 2 dimensional reproduction that is used for logos, advertising and product design.

Pablo Picasso, Still Life with Skull, Leeks and Pitcher 1945

The colours that are used within the photograph definitely evoke connections with death, although the image also resonates the powerful effect of photography, which can capture  the presence and the absence of the deceased.

In comparison, Picasso has painting a very abstract or geometric interpretation of the skull, which is composed with other elements such as flowers or vases. One could argue that the shapes reduce the actual image of the skull into various forms and compositions, which is open to interpretation. The eye sockets and the teeth are the only elements, which allow the viewer to recognise the actual image of the skull within the painting.

From a personal perspective, Picasso’s skull doesn’t really invigorate any connections with death, although the different shapes, forms or compositions create another point of view or perception. One could argue that Popular Culture and Mass production has reduced the skull to basic shapes and patterns, which also questions whether a 2-dimensional image separates the skull from the subject of death.

Museum of Contemporary Photography, “Doug and Mike Starn”, Museum of Contemporary Photography 2012, (Accessed 31/7/12)

Mitnick, Keith. Artifical Light: A Narrative Inquiry into the Nature of Abstraction, Immediacy and Other Architectural Fictions.  New York: Princeton Arcitectural Press, 2008

Gaggi, Silvio. From Text to Hypertext: Decentering the Subject in Fiction, Film & Visual Arts.  Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997.

Beli, Michael, ed. The Context of English Literature 1900 – 1930. London: Metuen & Co. Ltd, 1980.

Image Citations:

3 responses to “Research into Photo Montage & Cubism

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