Table of contents:

Photomontage and mysticism at the dawn of photography
Photomontage and mysticism at the dawn of photography

One of the manifestations of the unexpected reaction to the invention of photography was the tradition of posthumous portraits, widespread in the second half of the 19th century.

“But don’t all these new miracles pale in front of the most amazing and most frightening of them - before the one that finally provided man too (like God) with the ability to create, realizing an intangible ghost that melts in the blink of an eye, leaving no shadow in mirror glass, and ripples on the water surface?”- wrote the master of photographic portrait Felix Nadar about photography more than 100 years ago.

Today in the Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow within the framework of the "Photobiennale-2020" exhibition "Some Disorder. Works from the collection of Antoine de Galbert ". The time span of the collection's photographs is 160 years. The photomontage of the mid-19th century deserves special attention. with a beheading scene.

Photography and death

Already in the 1860s. posthumous photography orders made up a significant part of the commercial photographer's activities. The snapshot of the deceased was not just a visual reminder, it was a physical extension of that person. Perhaps the most radical illustration of this idea is photography after death, which appeared already in the 1890s. - a photograph taken during his lifetime was reprinted with the addition of particles of the deceased's ashes.

It is quite natural that photography became one of the favorite tools of spiritism, incredibly popular at that time, whose followers were looking for new ways of communication with the spiritual, afterlife. And it is precisely with spiritistic photography that the incredible flourishing of technologies for manipulating the photographic image, which began in the mid-1850s, is primarily associated.

First photomontage

Interest in manipulating the photographic image appeared almost simultaneously with the invention of photography itself, but the technical complexity of the early photographic processes made it extremely time consuming. Until the 1850s. The only area of ​​application for combined printing (printing from two negatives) was landscape photography - in pictures taken at the slow shutter speed required at the time, the sky was often blown out.

In this case, photographers sometimes mechanically matched the two negatives when printing, adding a good sky to a fairly exposed landscape. However, in this case, the reason for using photomontage is counterintuitive - it is used to achieve greater realism.

The more “creative” use of photomontage began in the late 1850s, which can be attributed to several factors. First, with technological progress, which has greatly simplified its use and expanded the photographer's toolbox; secondly, with cultural changes - photography begins to pretend to be artistic, spiritualism appears, which opened up a whole direction, and most importantly, the industrialization of photography takes place, which becomes available to a much wider public.

"Severed" heads

By the 1860s. what later became known as "trick photography", that is, photographic tricks. For the first time in its history, photography is involved in the entertainment industry. Experimenting with the possibilities of new media, amateur photographers create impossible, absurd images.

One of the most popular subjects (through simple manipulations) is decapitation. By using dark fabric in the composition, photographers leave a part of the negative unlit and then project another image onto it - an early example of multiple exposure. They create images that are shocking and captivating at the same time, humorously playing on the tradition of depicting death that has formed in photography.

Unknown author "Untitled", approx

Unknown author "Untitled", c. 1870. Source: Célia Pernot, Collection Antoine de Galbert, Paris

Unknown author "A man juggling his head", ok

Unknown author "A man juggling his head", c. 1880. Source: MAMM

As when observing a card trick, the viewer realizes that he has been deceived, but has no idea how. It is no coincidence that "trick photography" is often referred to as tricks and illusions. A typical example is the 1897 book Magic: stage illusions and scientific diversions, including trick photography. Typical of the 19th century. absolute confidence in photography as a reflection of reality only enhanced this effect.

An example of "trick photography"

An example of "trick photography". Source: Internet Archive / California Digital Library

An example of "trick photography"

An example of "trick photography". Source: Internet Archive / California Digital Library

Spiritual photography, which uses the same techniques, but aimed at a completely different audience, is becoming a separate direction.

While "trick photography" was used for entertainment, multiple-exposure shots of spirits and ghosts served as a confirmation of the hugely popular ideas of spiritualism - the desire to penetrate the boundaries of physical perception and get in touch with the afterlife.

Surprisingly, the documentary nature of spiritistic photography continued to be challenged even in the 20th century. For example, Arthur Conan Doyle in 1922 published Facts in favor of Spiritual Photography, in which he argued that, despite the large number of fraudsters, many photographs with ghosts are genuine.

Arthur Conan Doyle at the Spiritualist

Arthur Conan Doyle in spiritistic photography, by Ada Dean, 1922. Source: MAMM

As for "trick photography", by the beginning of the 20th century. this movement grew into a mass industry for the production of comic postcards.

Comic images based on "trick photography"

Comic images based on "trick photography". Source: MAMM

In many ways, they anticipated the surreal art that emerged later. Salvador Dali wrote: “We surrealists turn our backs on fine art and turn to a postcard instead.

She is the most dynamic expression of collective consciousness. The influence of the postcard is so deep and permanent that it is comparable to psychoanalysis. The Surrealist Revolution rehabilitated the postcard - along with automatic writing, dreams, insanity and primitive art."

In the 1920s-1930s. avant-garde artists began to look for inspiration in dreams, fantasies and the depths of the unconscious: a movement arose that was called "surrealism". For the first time this term was used by Guillaume Apollinaire in 1917. However, already 30 years before the "official" emergence of surrealism, postcards appeared, demonstrating the extraordinary artistic imagination and amazing technical ingenuity of their creators.

Publisher N

Publisher N. P. G. ["New Photographic Society"], Germany, postmark - 1904. "Surrealistic illusionism. Photographic Fantasies of the Early 20th Century”. Source: Finnish Museum of Photography

The "surreal" photo postcards anticipated the innovations of modernism and even the principles of citation and irony inherent in postmodernism. But that's a completely different story.

Popular by topic