Photomontage XII, (taken from pages 153,169,178), 2009-2010. Copyright Melinda Gibson
Author: BJP for iPad
01 Feb 2011 Tags: Appissue01
If Melinda Gibson’s photomontages look familiar, don’t be surprised. A flash of Ed Burtynsky here, a slice of Juergen Teller there, they are all made up of elements of some of the major works of the 1990s and 2000s, culled from the pages of The Photograph As Contemporary Art. Written and edited by Charlotte Cotton (former curator at the V&A and LACMA, and now creative director of the UK’s National Media Museum), it is one of the key texts for students starting out in photographic education. Which is precisely why the 26-year-old, who graduated from London College of Communication in 2006 and is now a visiting lecturer herself, chose to use it.
“I wanted to produce a body of work that was original – unique pieces unable to be reproduced – which in turn commented on the availability of photography in our heightened digitalised age. I also wanted to provoke questions about copyright and ownership through the re-appropriation of imagery. What is important to me is questioning the medium and the conventions that surround it, examining these and suggesting other ways to view them.”
Using just a scalpel, an adhesive and “a lot of patience”, she took the book apart, organising the nearly 300 images from the book into categories (People, Interior, Exterior and Abstract) and then, always starting with a photograph containing a figure, she’d “spend a lot of time with the initial image, working out which parts should be removed, then cut these away and started experimenting with what images fit into the negative spaces”.
Each montage is made from three different pictures, one of which provides the basic compositional framework of her recontextualised image. So in one image, Photomontage XI, a figure sits before the camera in front of a wallpapered background (Seido Keïta, Unititled, Fleur de Paris, 1959), his suit patterned with the geometric lines of desert drill holes (Ed Burtynsky, Oil Fields #13, Taft, California, 2002) and his face made from bathroom sink taps (Annika von Hausswolff, Everything is connected, he, he, he, 1999).
“When working with an exterior image behind a silhouetted figure, I carefully found imagery that could resemble human elements,” she explains, revealing that she used up six of Cotton’s books in the process of making the montages, but only abandoned three on her initial try-outs at the process, producing 33 in total. “Through dismantling the book, removing every image, you decontextualise the photographs and they start to become something different. As the project grew, I realised that slicing these images apart, reconnecting them to others brought a new dismembered reality to the imagery.”
But, as she has already hinted, there’s another, more critical purpose to the work, in particular the way such books serve to canonise particular photographers and images. “What I find frustrating is that the same images appear and re-appear every year at [educational] institutions. As you wonder through the different degree shows, you feel as though you have seen it all before – just modern takes on Martin Parr, Stephen Shore or Nan Goldin. What crossed my mind was whether these institutions are to blame for this, or whether it is truly impossible to produce something new. In my view, the canonisation of such sources acts as a hindrance to creativity, where people feel they have to produce something similar to be accepted or understood.”
She freely admits that her own imagery fits into a couple of the prevailing trends among a new generation of artists, such as the photograph as object, and the idea of “interrogating the medium”, to quote a much-abused phrase. Some critics (Parr the most prominent among them) argue that contemporary art photography has become somewhat insular compared to the more heavyweight social concerns of a previous generation of documentarists, saying this trend reflects the over-dominance of art school education on the evolution of the medium.
“The world has changed and photography has moved on,” counters Gibson. “We see millions of images every day and, whether we process them or not I cannot say, but what I believe is that it is very important to register this change within the medium. In my opinion, it is highly beneficial to examine, question and interrogate the medium itself because we learn much more through doing so.
“The internet has revolutionised the way we view imagery, and in turn changes the boundaries within photography. My work hopes to address this change by producing works that cannot be cut, copied and pasted, but that are unique pieces, unable to be reproduced. What has become apparent is that in some ways I have also failed. Due to the success of this work, images are being circulated around the internet; they are being reproduced again and again. [One of the unexpected consequences was her work being cited as the inspiration for Spring/Summer Collection 2012 of Hugo by Hugo Boss, titled “poetic tailoring”.] But for me, this aids the conception as it helps to consolidate the relationship between photography, consummation and technology.”
We hope you enjoyed this article from the British Journal of Photography for iPad, Issue One. For more information on how to get this free app, which includes all the photos from this article plus hundreds more, click here.
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