Contemporary Archive Appropriation Collage

Contemporary archive art? Doesn’t seem legitimate does it? However, it appears that instead of creating bodies of work based on new media, artists are commonly looking toward archive sources to curate and recreate their own work with his own message. One common tool to marry old and new media is using collage.

Take John Stezaker, exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery in 2012, he uses archive head shots of film stars from magazines clippings and spliced the pieces together. The coupling (marrying) of two opposite gender stars not only indicates Stezaker’s wit, but also portrays his attention to how there was undeniably a ‘Hollywood look’. Stezaker also identifies the style of portraiture from early cinema; often the face 30-45 degrees off-centre for jaw definition and soft lighting for even skin tones. This continuity allows the archive pieces to work together in unison; however, this creates an unsettling encounter for the viewer. A 21st Century viewer, or late 20th in fact, is used to seeing work constrained by the edges of the frame; collages can create new worlds and yet still appear extremely legitimate to be true; yet, Stezaker reminds his viewers that although the marriages are executed well, the art is still two pieces of work without a traditional ‘frame’. This reminder serves great purpose: that the work is an archival piece where each piece is separate evidence and also that these characters aren’t real.

“Stezaker points to a disjointed harmony, where the irreconciliation of difference both complements and detracts from the whole. In his correlated images, personalities (and our idealisations of them) become ancillary and empty, rendered abject through their magnified flaws and struggle for visual dominance.” Saatchi Gallery

Interesting quotations by Stezaker

“There is something very peculiar about taking a scalpel which was invented for surgical purposes and cutting across the emulsion of a photograph”

It is partly personal – I grew up around those images. I was drawn to sepia, which wasn’t a colour of my childhood but which is the colour of things that have been consigned to cupboards, old things.”

“Most conceptual art tries to reduce the gap between everyday life and the gallery, I want to reinforce that distinction.”

“I’m making much more fundamental point – all property is theft. I’m stealing. I see my work as that, it’s important to be clear about it. Appropriation sounds much too official. A young student once asked me that, ‘Why do you call it appropriation?’ and I said ‘I don’t, I far prefer theft’. It gets to the point. Sometimes I do think of the circumstances of the photographer, and here I am probably making more money out of their photographs than they ever did. I have sort of strategies of reparation, such as at least people are being introduced to their photographs through my work.”

Charlotte Cory is a lesser known artist/writer also undertaking the collage medium to marry old and new media. Using taxidermy to add fiction to Victorian photographs she creates short stories. What is intersting for me is that I own similar Victorian prints and I couldn’t bring myself to put them under the scalpel as beautiful artefacts from early photographic practice and consumerism. Yet, it is absurd as I although mine are of family, my family nor I can’t identify any of them therefore eradicating any kind of sentimental attachment. Cory on the other hand has no fear with taking forgotten people and re-identifying them as fictional Peter Rabbit-type characters. For this reason I find her work unsettling, yet still compelling. It is suggested that Cory believes:

Collecting Cartes-de-visite was a craze in Victorian times, called “cartomania”. It was the Facebook of its time. Millions were produced and are now mostly worthless. Cory combines these poignant images with portraits taken of stuffed animals from museums and her own collection.

This raises the question to me that can archive photography, which was widely distributed at the time of publishing (by magazines or craze), only become valuable when appropriated as contemporary art?

© Charlotte Cory

Other questions I have, more directed at Cory herself:

Why with appropriated art, does she license her work with ‘all rights reserved’ and not Creative Commons?

What lead to the link between taxidermy and archival photography?

Less collage and more ‘collection’ that photographer Wayne Daniel used one archive portrait of a man to create  the fictitious story of Dr Walter Verbogdon. He montaged both digital and analogue photography to exhibit a false archive. With the technology today, photographers have the capabilities of luring viewers into a false sense of security by reshooting a style reminiscent of what an archive collection should look like. Regardless, Daniel executed this work well, but also adding to the argument of whether archive photography of the everyman is valuable.

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