The Power of Photo Montage

“Without freedom of press what is government but an unchallenged, deaf, old power” – Peter Kennard


Wanting to concentrate more on satire in photography and to focus my search, I simply googled “photography used as a satirical comment on new developing technologies”…

This image is of course not real.

It is called 'Photo Op', which combines a picture of the grinning former prime minister taking a self-portrait on a mobile phone, originally from the 2005 general election campaign, with a separate image of a blazing oilfield during the Iraq war, created by anti-war artist Paul Kennard and Cat Phillipps.

To create this photo-montage, the two artists used Photoshop to replace a group of naval cadets with an apocalypse of fire. “A satirical icon was born.”

The image has caused controversy and grabbed media attention, with the idea of changing people's view of something that has happened in the past. By using two separate images with two detached meanings, through the medium of photo-montage a completely new meaning has been created.

When the image was chosen for a poster campaign as part of an exhibition in Manchester, two of the UK’s biggest advertising companies refused to show it.

The problem - or the genius - was that the image LOOKS REAL. The message that is being put across is BELIEVABLE so no wonder authorities wanted it taken down.

Meanings cannot simply come FROM the image, rather they are projected ONTO the image, with all the social, historical and political intertwined together to create a meaning. It is fairly obvious to say that the ban of this image is a result of a shared thought, or a shared meaning, that communally people have projected onto it. The image’s indexical quality has also been brought into question, as it has been manipulated and this manipulating the meaning.

This image has uncovered a meaning, a thought, that is shared by a great number of people, and this is what the powers that be are afraid of.

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In describing photography as a 'visual language', Kennard's work declared to "rip apart the smooth apparently seamless surface of official deceit to expose the conflict underneath."

He used common news imagery and photojournalism images to make visual connections, allowing him to, in his words, “break through the sea of media images in which something I feel I am drowning.”

His work tries to bring around social change, by using such images that we have become desensitized to because we see them so often in the news.

“Kennard’s declared aim is to rip apart the smooth apparently seamless surface of official deceit to expose the conflict underneath” - taken from ‘Art in the age of Mass Media’.

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The Start of an Idea...

- 5 photo’s, 5 apps, all presented on a phone screen

Use iconography to represent concepts

– Snapchat and the ‘screenshot’ = a snapshot of a moment in time

- Instagram: ‘notifications’ = easy access of photo’s of the news

- Google maps: the ‘pin’

- Facebook: ‘tagging’ or the ‘like’ = what does this mean?

- other ideas = ‘followers’, the ‘selfie’, the ‘hashtag’

By using a ‘serious’ photo journalistic image as though it was the photo taken or added via the use of a social media app, I would hope to achieve the satirical style I had hope for in order to make a point about social media and technology’s effect on the way in which we react to images of photojournalism.

Quote that sums up the idea of the project so far:

“the unpacking of social relationships between people that is mediated by images” – Debord 1994

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Meeting with Simon 22/10/2015

Ideas for project:

- Re-shoot/re-stage 5 iconic photojournalism photographs as social media images, using the interfaces of 5 different Social Media Apps

- Content > photojournalism re-shoot

- Style> social media apps

- A comment on Western consumerism?

Simon gave me some useful examples to look to learn more about photography and photo montage, and the deconstruction of images and their meanings:

- Zbigniew Libera – 'Napalm Girl'

- Don McCullin – ‘The Destruction of Business’ (inspiration for content)

My meeting with Simon made me very excited as I now felt I had a focus for my project .

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Case Study: John Heartfield

Photo-activism > Artists in the age of the mass media allow insight into how representations are constructed, fostering a healthy scepticism in regard to mass media pictures of the world.

Photo montage: a form of RESISTANCE

- Has special appeal to left wing artists because of its social appeal

- Enables the reality-effect of photographs (indexical) to be combined with the
analytical and synthetic skills of the political commentator

- The simple juxta position of two photographs will generate a third effect

- A concern with politics of representation which are so deeply manifested in mass media

Anti-Nazi > (AIZ) – research for style and technique:

- Heartfield approximated existing images to create his own meaning

- He engaged with the official culture by using a contemporary medium and deconstructed and subverted a symbolic language that already existed

- For Heartfield, pictorial representation was a site of political agitation and class struggle.

- His images still remain relevant today because of the injustices they attacked remain unsolved.

How I am going to employ these ideas in my project:

- By immersing the project in images of both social media and sombre news images, it will allow me to engage with symbolic meaning associated with it.

- Taking two elements and creating a new image will help me scrutinize the concepts which I hope to pull apart, as a way of freezing the rapid flow and turnover of images typical of our consumer society

- Where the use of images can be employed by those in power, the power of the image can also be employed by the activist as well: I hope to achieve, through photo montage, to turn this image-choked world on its head to create a new meaning

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Case study: Susan Sontag

A few quotes which embody what I want to say in my project

- The power of photography
- “It is mainly a social rite, a defense against anxiety, and a tool of power”
- “Photographing is essentially an act of non-intervention” > touches on the idea
that I also want my photos to make people do something, rather than take a photograph

- “After the event (War) has ended, the picture will still exist, conferring on the event a kind of immortality”

- HOWEVER: “eventually people might learn to act out more of their aggressions with cameras and fewer with guns, with the price being an even more image-choked world” > the image-choked world that Sontag describes is exactly what I want to comment on, as it is a world I believe in which we live, that hinders our interaction with the real world.

- Photographs that “must have seemed to many like an unbearable replay of a now familiar atrocity exhibition” > what good is served by seeing these photographs of war?

How are you going to employ these ideas in your project?

- Snapchat claims to be a democratic way of using photography, because it is our ‘social rite’

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