Project Three – The Found Image in Photomontage

During the nineteenth century, there was a rise in deliberate manipulation of photographs, however, since the arrival in the early twentieth century of readily available printed photographic matter in the form of mass-produced newspaper and magazine reproductions, artists have used and re-used photographic material to make their own work. The twentieth century saw a rise of  print media and found photography, being cut up and re-arranged, in order to produce politically motivated images using montage and collage.

The ‘invention’ of photomontage is disputed between Raoul Hausmann and John Heartfield, however, one of the most famous artists who produced photomontage’s at that time was German born Dadaist Hannah Höch.

     “Whenever we want to force this photo matter to yield new forms, we must be prepared for a journey of discovery. We must start without any preoccupations; most of all, we must be open to the beauties of fortuity.” [1] 

Double Vision, 1928, Hannah Höch
Double Vision, 1928, Hannah Höch

In her use of found images from contemporary media, Höch’s work both incorporated and critiques the media culture that surrounded her at that time. In her series From the Ethnographic Museum, she combined reproductions of tribal statues in museum catalogues with images of eyes and limbs cut from contemporary magazines to produce an unsettling series of cut-up bodies which reflected on the colonial attitudes of the time. 

The image Cut With the Cake Knife is an early example of her photomontage pieces.

Cut With the Kitchen ( Cake ) Knife, 1919, Hannah Hoch
Cut With the Kitchen ( Cake ) Knife, 1919, Hannah Höch

The image itself has no meaning, however, there is an underlying theme and commentary of political and gender issues within Germany at the time, with the inclusion of cut images of political figures and maps, which have been included in the collage. 

Photomontage was embraced by the Dadaists in the Weimar Republic from the Post – World War One period onwards, but had existed since the birth of photography itself, and often for political ends. Höch noted:

      ‘For decades photojournalism has used photographs to cut up very modestly but quite consciously, often pasting on parts of photographs whenever it felt a need to do so. For example,  when a potentate was welcome in Trochtelborn, and the journalistic photo taken on the sport was not impressive enough, various groups of people from different photographs were glued to it, and the sheet was photographed again, thus creating an immense crowd when in reality the welcoming crowd was only a male choir.’  

Photomontage was used to devastating political effect by German artist John Heartfield, whose anti-Fascist photomontages are some of the most influential works ever produced in this medium. Like Höch, Heartfield used found image and text to create a powerful anti-Fascist commentary; these ideas were then disseminated in a variety of forms.

Working from a declared left-wing position, he used his images to offer increasingly satirical critiques of Nazi Germany, whereas Höch sought to undermine meaning through the use of the irrational, Heartfield uses the absurd and the juxtaposing of different elements in order to delate and expose. His perspective turns the photograph into a blend of the political essay and the political cartoon or caricature. 

Hurrah, the Butter’s Finished! refers to a speech by Herman Goering and quotes him as saying that ‘Iron always makes a country strong, butter and lard only make people fat’. 

Hurrah, the Butter's Finished!, 1935. John Heartfield

Against the absurdity of this claim, Heartfield constructs a withering satire on its implications if believed. The montage is constructed with the use of exaggeration, juxtaposition, the use of the un-expected and visual hyperbole. The image shows a patriotic family sat at the dining table, with the absence of butter, but instead, they are embarking on a feast of old iron objects such as chains, bike frames, and nuts & bolts. The baby in the pram is biting down on an axe and the dog is chewing on a bolt instead of a bone. The wallpaper is made up of Swastikas, and there is a portrait of Hitler on the wall. The acute attention to detail, without reducing the essential message is what Heartfield was known for. 

The manipulations of both Höch and Heartfield were purposefully crude. Whilst carefully composed, their aim was not to deceive the eye, but rather to get their ideas across in as immediate a way as possible. 

Photo manipulation was of course also used to different ends. The close relationship between photographic manipulation and politics is explored in W.J.T. Mitchell’s The Reconfigured Eye. Mitchell gives several examples of photographs submitted as evidence at trials but later discovered to be manipulated and therefore worthless as evidence. 

Peter Kennard follows in the tradition of Höch and Heartfield and uses both analogue and digital montage to questions socio-political structures. In Haywain with Cruise Missile, 1980, Kennard inserted three nuclear warheads into a reproduction of John Constable’s portrayal of an idyllic East Anglian scene, The Hay Wain, 1821. 

Haywain with Cruise Missiles 1980 by Peter Kennard
Haywain with Cruise Missiles, 1980. Peter Kennard. Tate collection.

The impetus for this work was the proposal to base US cruise missiles in rural East Anglia. Using simple and direct compositional techniques, Kennard effectively conveys his message. 

This image reminds me of two pieces of art work produced by the graffiti artist Banksy. The first being Study for Happy Choppers, 2003, and the second being The Banality of the Banality of Evil, 2013. 

Study for Happy Choppers, 2003. Banksy.
Study for Happy Choppers, 2003. Banksy.
The Banality of the Banality of Evil, 2013. Banksy
The Banality of the Banality of Evil, 2013. Banksy



Höch, Hannah.

[1] Hannah Höch, ‘On Today’s Photomontage’, quoted in Ades & Hermann, 2014, p.141.

Double Vision, 1928, Hannah Höch. Photograph reproduced with permission for the OCA.

Cut With the Kitchen ( Cake ) Knife, 1919, Hannah Höch

The Photograph, Graham Clarke. Oxford University Press, London 1997. P. 197-199.

ISBN: 9780192842008

Heartfield, John. 

Hurrah, the Butter’s Finished!, 1935. John Heartfield.

The Photograph, Graham Clarke. Oxford University Press, London 1997. P. 197-200.

ISBN: 9780192842008

Haywain with Cruise Missiles, 1980. Peter Kennard. Tate collection.     ( Accessed 02/01/2018)


Study for Happy Choppers, 2003. Banksy.     ( Accessed 02/01/2018)

The Banality of the Banality of Evil, 2013. Banksy.   ( Accessed 02/01/2018)


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