photomontage of people in a tuktuk in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Photomontages - The Most Unique Approach to Photography

by
Kevin Landwer-Johan
Kevin Landwer-Johan

Photographs typically represent a single moment in time and conform their subject to a two dimensional space. A photomontage is a unique approach to photography, transcending these traditional boundaries.

Perspective with a single view point is abandoned. Time constraints become elastic. Combining multiple photos into a single image of the same subject, photomontages enter the realm of Cubism.

Inspired By David Hockney

British painter, David Hockney, started making photomontages sometime in the late 1970s. He began with Polaroids, so all his photos were bordered with white. He then progressed on to using a 35mm film camera to make his photos.

Hockney was not a lover of photography, quite disdainful of it in fact. He makes this clear in his book ‘Hockney on Photography.’ Hockney used photography more as a tool than as a medium.

He was fascinated with the diversity joining many photos together afforded him. It gave him leave to explore time, space and relationships in new ways. He frequently makes references to the process of painting when talking about his photo joiners’.

While attending a short night school photography course, (the only structured photography study I have done,) I saw a video of Hockney making a photo joiner. I was captivated by it.

What David Hockney was doing in this video amazed me. At this stage in life I’d only owned a camera for a few months. My enthusiasm for photography was fresh. This new way of photographing and compiling the pictures fascinated me.

Exploring My Own Creative Expression With Photomontages

Photomontages are the primary creative expression I have pursued alongside my career as a professional photographer.

As my passion grew and my photography skill increased I dreamed of making it a full time career. Before long I landed a job in a daily newspaper as an assistant in the editorial photography department. Since then I have worked primarily as a professional photographer.

Working  in photography requires pleasing clients and/or editors with the pictures we take. Individual creative expression is often confined by outside demands. Making montages I maintain imaginative authority, even when producing them for others.

A number of times my montages were published in the newspapers I worked for. I’ve produced them for commercial clients. They were also popular with wedding couples I photographed as it provided a unique artwork from their special day.

Creating montages forces me to think outside the box of traditional photography.

Seeing In Different Dimensions

Single photographs can display an illusion of depth represented in two dimensions. By combining photographs into a montage the semblance of a third dimension is exaggerated.

Changing location as I make the photos for a montage means the resulting compilation of pictures will be fractured. They cannot be simply joined seamlessly as in a typical panorama photograph.

photomontage of the Iron Bridge in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Photographing the Iron Bridge montage, I stood in three different locations. First to the left of the bridge, then to the right, and then in the middle. My intention was to show both sides of the bridge in the completed work.

The strong lines of the bridge made it possible to compile this piece using only seven photographs. Without distinct lines connecting the individual photos a montage becomes confusing and difficult to look at.

Stretching Time

Sometimes a photographing a montage doesn’t take me long at all. But this is unusual. Most often the process is time consuming.

Developing the concept and planning it’s execution typically takes more time than making the pictures. The evolution of a photomontage through the stages of compilation on the computer and sticking down the prints takes the longest time.

What I love most about time in montages is that I can stretch it. With a single photo I am confined to a very short duration. Usually a fraction of a second.

Photomontages give me the freedom to play with time. When there’s any movement in a scene I can incorporate it creating the illusion of expanded time.

photomontage of a tricycle taxi in Chiang Mai, Thailand

In one instance the rider is seated in his tricycle taxi on the right. To the left, in the same frame, he is stepping down onto the pavement. He has three legs and only one foot.

As with the fracturing of dimensions, the stretching of time must be treated with care. When I am photographing any progression I must stay with the action. I must capture the sequence as a full series of photos, even if I don’t end up using them all. They all are only segments of the whole scene and activity.

Putting together the pieces of any scene played out over time can be very challenging. I look to create a flow. The finished montage needs to be coherent.

Moving The Montage

Digital technology has allowed me to develop my montages beyond photography and into video as well.

Combining still images with movie clips brought photomontages into a whole new realm.

I’d experimented briefly, exploring some possibilities. Before getting deep into this new and exciting genre I had been invited to be part of a large international exhibition to be held in Chiang Mai.

I exhibited three print montages and one video montage. My were some of the other contributing artists to the exhibition. They were all in Chiang Mai to produce their work for the show.

Producing this piece was very challenging. I knew it was to be publicly exhibited, so I the pressure was on! I also had a deadline to meet.

My computer kept crashing as I entered the final stages, due to there being over 150 layers of photos and videos. This slowed me down and forced me to simplify the video montage somewhat. However, I managed to complete it on time. This montage attracted a lot of attention during the opening night, which drew the largest audience the gallery has ever seen.

Progressing Further

My montages were also exhibited as a solo show, Fractured Dimensions, in 2014. I spent the longest and most concentrated time that year working on my them. The exhibition was a huge success.

Since then they have been shown in one other gallery space and now hang on the walls of our new home. Due to having built this home, I have not devoted so much time to producing new photo and video montages as I would like.

I do have one piece currently in production, the likes of which I have not tried previously. As we started building my wife suggested that I make a time lapse montage of the house being built. So I am.

If you’ve enjoyed this article you may also enjoy reading more about how I make photomontages here.

Kevin Landwer-Johan photographer
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