Photomontage and Our Visual Vocabulary

The photomontage has developed a unique language that engages viewers much in the same way paintings employ allusion and references to the work of others.  For example, Titian’s Venus of Urbino is not merely borrowed from, but is directly referenced and parodied by Manet’s Olympia.

The faithful bride

The scandalous courtesan (her face was recognizable to the Parisian viewers)

Photomontage is much less subtle with its allusions, which makes it more accessible for the contemporary viewer living in an image saturated world.  It was once enough to hint at the composition, subject, or lighting of an earlier artists’ work for a thoughtful comparison to be made.  But now, with photomontage, the statement is a powerful, no-doubt-about-it comparison for the contemporary viewer.  Here’s my quick photomontage version of Titian’s Venus of Urbino entitled Jenna:

There is great power in the photomontage, and it often goes hand in hand with social and political agendas as it may harness the power of mass media and recognizable images that may be forced to comment on themselves.

Regarding fair use laws, the line between copying and profiting from another person’s work and using their work in a photomontage to create a new meaning is a very intuitive one.  The legal system is going to have a very difficult time nailing down what belongs to whom, what we are going to do about it, and why.  We live in an age where we are communicating with images more than ever.  Art is no longer something meant only for museums and wealthy patrons, but it is infiltrating our language style.  Gifs, memes, and images flood the television, magazines, and the Internet, and we decide what meanings to attribute to these images.  We allow them to speak with each other.  We determine what will remain in our visual vocabulary.


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