PRINT September 1978

Composite Imagery and the Origins of Photomontage, Part I: The Naturalistic Strain

IN 1931, RAOUL HAUSMANN, one of the original members of the Berlin Dada Movement, gave a public lecture on the nature and history of photomontage,1 on the occasion of the official opening of Cesar Domela-Nieuwenhuis’ “Fotomontage” exhibition at the Staatliche Museen.2 In his lecture Hausmann claimed that the first “photomonteurs”—the Dadaists—started from the premise that the situation of painting after the war was much too involved with nonobjectivity and lacked any great conviction. All the arts, he said, were in need of a “fundamental, revolutionary change” in order to keep some relation with the life of their times. What was needed was a new “material” for the renovation of the forms of a fresh content. Therefore, the Dadaists gave birth to photomontage:

[The] idea of photomontage was as revolutionary as was its content, its form as incredible as the application of photography and printed texts, which together transformed themselves into a sort of static film. . . . [The Dadaists] were the first to use photography as a material to create an entirely new entity with the aid of very different structures that were often whimsical and antagonistic . . . an optical reflection that was intentionally new.3

The priority of invention that Hausmann stated was similar to that which Max Ernst, Hannah Höch, John Heartfield and other photomonteurs of the ’20s also claimed. Most critics and historians of modern art have attested to this proposition. Numerous arguments and rivalries concern who actually was the first to have “discovered” this mode of expression, but the principal point is that photomontage is generally said to have begun only around the time of the First World War.4

Earlier examples of photomontage have been usually brushed aside on grounds of eccentricity. If any of these pictorial antecedents was anything more than a strange aberration, it was then, perforce, anachronistic: either “proto-dada” or “proto-surrealist.” The entire notion of using photographs as distinct material for pictures would therefore appear to have begun with Dada, with perhaps some immediate impetus offered by modernist painting and graphics. These sources from the traditional arts issued most strongly from the Cubist and Futurist idioms: simultaneity, compressive flattening of space, juxtaposition of nonallied subjects, synthesis of the picture area and the use of collaged materials. An even closer parallel is found in the mechanomorphic drawings by Picabia, done primarily during the last half of the ’teens. While not physically montages, the iconographic structure of these drawings suggests a montage sensibility, fabricating a new unity from a diverse array of visual particulars.5

A search for the precise beginnings of montage (or collage) could lead back to 12th-century Japanese manuscripts, 13th-century Persian miniatures and German Rococo calendars. During the 19th century montage reached almost every minor art from valentines, scrapbooks and assemblaged vases to still lifes by Harnett and Peto. For photography, on the other hand, the general assumption has been that it remained quite pure and divorced from this sort of manipulation, and that picture-makers waited until avant-garde esthetics sanctioned the production of photomontages. The vast amount of contradictory evidence from the 19th century dictates a reevaluation of this position and a reexamination of the history of photography in order to determine the extent to which photomontage was a viable picture-making activity prior to the modern era.

Basically, photomontage is the fabrication of a composite but single image made up of a number of distinct photographic parts. It “results from the association of photographic elements, which have diverse origins, natures and proportions, combined in such a way as to express with force a particular idea.”6 Now in an 1861 issue of The Photographic News, we can already read, in an article concerned in part with composition photography,7 that

a photographer, like all artists, is at liberty to employ what means he thinks necessary to carry out his ideas. If a picture cannot be produced by one negative, let him have two or ten; but let it be clearly understood, that these are only means to the end, and that the picture when finished must stand or fall entirely by the effects produced, and not by the means employed.8

Separated by over a century, both critics are discussing the production of pictures made from materials that are other pictures. The two picture-making techniques are the same in this respect. The ideas behind them are quite different, however. Still there was, beginning with the 1850s, a rather long dualistic tradition of this sort of imagery that culminated in the so-called advent of photomontage about 60 years ago.

Perhaps the most famous extant example of early composite photography is Oscar G. Rejlander’s Two Ways of Life, made in the summer of 1857.9 The controversies which arose when it was exhibited at the Art Treasures Exhibition in Manchester, and which predicated its rejection from the later Edinburgh Photographic Exhibition,10 were not so much over the subject matter as the unsuitability of the subject for photography and its lack of homogeneity. “Respice Finem,” writing some eight years after the Manchester exhibition, could still maintain that

there are undoubtedly fields of art to which photography is totally inapplicable, whether by combination or single negatives. It is not suited to the rendering of imaginative art. In the ablest attempt of this kind, Mr. Rejlander’s “Two Ways of Life,” a work in many respects of great ability, photographically and pictorially, there was suggested to most minds a strong sense of unfitness. The allegorical nymphs, with which the picture was crowded, were not abstractions, but literal portrayals of naked women; and the unsuitability of the means to the end impressed everyone with an uncomfortable sense of incongruity.11

In one blow this critic presents to his readers the twofold hindrance to a critical acceptance of the photograph as a pictorial art: namely, propriety and an absolute verism incapable of idealization.

Much of the official British painting of the time contained similar elements of allegorical nudity and was, in its own way, just as veristic; but because it was not produced with the camera, it was more of a creation, and thus exempt from such criticism. Somewhat parallel, moreover, were the arguments waged against the Realists, especially Courbet.12 Conservative critics took the stand that art has to be ideal, that it should portray the world not as it is, but as it would be if cast in a heroic mold.13 The “realistic” and often ugly aspects in the paintings of Courbet and Millet during the 1850s and early 1860s brought heated criticism from the traditionalists. But it was just this notion of idealization that was felt not to be possible with photography. To cite “Respice Finem” again: “Photography, in short, is to be confined to the rendering of facts as they are, whilst painting may render facts as they might be.”14

Rejlander’s concern with the Two Ways of Life was precisely to approach this realm of the ideal. He saw little basic difference between what a good photographer and a good painter could accomplish. A painting of the same subject—except for the color—was as real and as truthful as a photograph. The greatest distinction was that the photograph was more truthful in its details than the painting since it had gone through fewer “mediums.” As for the ideal, Rejlander could attempt to render it. Many of his models, he felt, displayed various peculiarities in their positions due to their being “more or less perfect in shape.” Wanting to depict the best lines of the figures, he was forced to hide what he felt was less correct according to classicizing standards.15

The second criticism directed against Two Ways of Life is more important in present consideration, for two reasons. First, it came principally from the photographic community—to which the photographer would have paid more attention. Secondly, it dealt with a fundamental feature of a good deal of subsequent photography. In short, the photograph was a picture exemplifying what was called the “patchwork heresy.”16 That it was produced not with a single negative but with close to 30 was considered a contradiction of the very essence of the photograph: its truth to nature. While many condemned the process of making a photographic picture out of diverse and separate negatives,17 a fair number of critics took the rather neutral view that if the result were acceptable and homogeneous, the process was of slight importance.18

Rejlander’s expressed purpose for making the picture was threefold:

(1) It was to be competitive with what might be expected from abroad. (2) I wished to show to artists how useful photography might be as an aid to their art, not only in details, but in preparing what may be regarded as a most perfect sketch of their composition. . . . (3) To show the plasticity of photography, . . . and to prove that you are not, by my way of proceeding, confined to one plane, but may place figures and objects at any distances, as clear and distinct as they relatively ought to be.19

His way of proceeding was to use a multiplicity of negatives in the composite technique, and his principal rationale was a technical limitation. The lens he used was such that the depth of field was very shallow. The only way of circumventing this limitation was to take pictures in each of the major planes and to combine them. This manner of working led not to falsehood but to truth. An extensive picture made by a single negative “is not true, nor will it ever be so—the focus cannot be everywhere.”20

Notwithstanding the obvious allegorical and idealistic qualities of Two Ways of Life, the photograph is representative of a naturalistic point of view. Rejlander wanted to produce a picture as if from nature, even if that nature was slightly purified and staged. He could have made the picture in a single “shot” if he had had the technical facility to do so, but this was impossible. In addition, if the picture were done on a single negative and simply printed, it undoubtedly would have been much more acceptable as a representation of an idea’s allegorization. But as it was, the immediacy and factuality of the camera hindered the esthetic assessment of the allegorical nudity. On the other hand, the process of fabricating the picture stood in the way of pictorial appreciation by those in a position to discuss photography as an art.21 After Rejlander’s paper “On Photographic Composition” was read at the April 6, 1858, meeting of the London Photographic Society, the entire discussion period among the members remained fixed on the noncritical points of technique and materials.

While Two Ways of Life was the most important composite photograph of the period, it was not the first. Rejlander had shown another one much earlier, in 1855. In a letter dated February 23 of that year we read:

A curious result is obtained by Mr. O. J. [sic] Rejlander in which a group is made up in one print from five distinct negatives, but the edges of each have by some ingenious management been so shaded in, as to give no clue to the composite nature of the picture; the grouping is very natural, and the effect good.22

There is also mention in the journals of 1855 of another British composition photograph by Berwick and Thomas Annan.23 Moreover, there are references to Hippolyte Bayard’s method, as early as 1851, in Paris, of double-printing clouds into an otherwise blank sky, to a German composite photograph made in 1854, and to well-known double-printed sky- and sea-scapes by Gustave LeGray, made in the middle 1850s.24

The need to print the sky and clouds separately from the landscape was the principal reason for using the composite technique throughout the 19th century and somewhat into the 20th.25 Because of the nature of the photographic emulsion before the development of panchromatic film and related filter systems, a printable exposure of both sky and foreground was impossible. Early emulsions were overly sensitive to blue and less than proportionately sensitive to colors like yellow and red. Consequently, skies were exposed far more quickly on the negative than the landscape. Extending the exposure time to record the details of the landscape therefore meant that the sky area was unprintably overexposed. If the photographer wanted a naturalistic rendering, he or she had to make two different exposures on two different negatives and then print them together on a single sheet. Nearly every landscape photographer during the 19th century used this method at one time or another, including such “straight” photographers as Eadweard Muybridge and Peter Henry Emerson.

Associated with this problem was the desire of many Salon or “art” photographers to coordinate their landscapes with “suitable” skyscapes—testimony to the possibility of idealization in the medium. It should be stressed that at first it was simply technical difficulties such as the film’s color-blindness and, at times, the lens’ narrow depth of focus, that led to the development of a technique which would allow for greater manipulation of the image and for extended possibilities of visual expression in photography. As such, composite printing allowed photographers like the Roman topographer Altobelli to change totally a somewhat prosaic view of the Colosseum into a dramatic, romanticized moonlit arena worthy of a setting for Daisy Miller.

The year after Rejlander exhibited his Two Ways of Life, Henry Peach Robinson entered a composite print made from five negatives in the London Photographic Society’s exhibition. Fading Away portrays the final hours of a young girl attended by her parents and, presumably, her sister. Early in 1858, Robinson took a single shot of 14-year-old model in a chair “in order to see how near death she could be made to look. . . . It afterwards developed into a large picture known as Fading Away, which shows that the design of a photographer can grow . . .”26 Much more than with Rejlander’s subject matter, it seems that there were critical concerns about the propriety of a photographer intruding on such a personal and extremely intimate scene.27 Apparently it was of little concern that the entire scene was staged by Robinson, nor did it matter that death-bed scenes were a stock-in-trade of Victorian painters, illustrators and writers. One has only to recall the popularity of such paintings as Wallis’ Death of Chatterton (1856) and The Dead Stonebreaker (1858) or George du Maurier’s illustrations from the 1860s, like On her Deathbed.28 Robinson not only quotes a stanza from Shelley beneath his original print, but may have also been inspired by the 1858 publication of a previously unpublished poem, “To Death,” by the Romantic poet.29 Whatever adverse criticism was directed at Fading Away can, therefore, only be accounted for by the fact that the picture was photographically accomplished.

The fact that Robinson, like Rejlander, used more than one negative did not seem to be a particularly important critical point. Perhaps this was due to the unified and homogeneous arrangement of the picture’s parts in Fading Away, whereas the grandiose and erratic structuring of Two Ways of Life emphasizes its method of production. And unlike Rejlander, who made few composites after 1857,30 Robinson became one of the most adept and noted practitioners of the technique in England as well as on the Continent. He also never again received any adverse criticism over his choice of subject, for after 1858 he limited himself almost completely to bucolic idylls and sentimental genre scenes.

Robinson’s technique was not essentially different from others of the period. More careful in planning his final picture, however, Robinson made numerous sketches by hand of the general composition, adjusted photographic details within these sketches, and proceeded to multiple-print as many negatives as were needed. His most succinct statement concerning this procedure appeared at the end of his Pictorial Effect in Photography, in the chapter “Combination Printing,” published in 1869, where he discusses the limits of the photographic medium:

But the scope of photography is wider than those who have only taken a simple portrait or landscape suppose. It is almost impossible to design a group that could not have been reproduced from life by the means our art places at our disposal. We do not mean to assert that such subjects as. Michael Angelo’s Last Judgment, or Raphael’s Transfiguration, for instance, have ever been done in photography; but it is not so much the fault of the art, as of the artists, that very elaborate pictures have not been successfully attempted.31

The fault is not in the materials but in the lack of skill or courage of the photographer. The process by which a truly skillful picture-maker could create such elaborate compositions was combination printing, or composite photography.

The means by which these pictures could have been accomplished is Combination Printing, a method which enables the photographer to represent objects in different planes in proper focus, to keep the true atmospheric and linear relation of varying distances, and by which a picture can be divided into separate portions for execution, the parts to be afterwards printed together on one paper, thus enabling the operator to devote all his attention to a single figure or sub-group at a time, so that if any part be imperfect from any cause, it can be substituted by another without the loss of the whole picture, as would be the case if taken at one operation.32

There is a parallel between this intention and the one expressed by Rejlander earlier: both photographers wished to demonstrate that the art of photography was not as limited as was believed. But there is also a fundamental difference between the two artists: Rejlander wanted Two Ways of Life to demonstrate the usefulness of photography to painters in planning large compositions; for Robinson, however, the photograph itself was the art form.

Composite photography allowed for an almost unlimited amount of “idealization” in what was otherwise this most realistic means of making pictures. For instance, it was solely a matter of chance what sort of skyscape was obtained—if any—when a straight photograph of a landscape was made, a shortcoming that Robinson realized and commented on:

It rarely happens that a sky quite suitable to the landscape occurs in the right place at the time it is taken. . . . These difficulties are got over by combination printing . . . the result will depend, to a very great degree, upon the art knowledge of the photographer in selecting a suitable sky, as well as upon his skill . . .33

So the photographer had to study both art and nature carefully in order to have his picture be true to life and to the principles of art. Obviously there are clear parallels between Robinson’s ideas and the traditional teaching of painting by the academies.

Robinson’s pictures are, likewise, similar to many of the more popular Salon paintings of the second half of the 19th century. Such pictures as Carolling (1887) or the study composition of 1862 present a gentle, veristic representation of arcadian idylls. Throughout the rest of Robinson’s career, which lasted well into the 1890s, he continued producing rather elegant—albeit not as complexly organized as he claimed possible—serene pastorals. The notion that he had fallen upon a remarkably marketable type of photographic imagery is difficult to discount. Yet these pictures exhibit a degree of charm and picturesque attractiveness comparable with the paintings of Myles Birket Foster and, at times, William Dyce.

By both photographic and painting standards of the 20th century, the attempt to hide the technique used in the making of the picture could be termed fakery. Perhaps on an absolute level it is precisely that. But this was not the goal of photographers like Robinson, whose sole aim was to make a pleasing and true-to-nature image. If the necessary means of obtaining this end—combination printing techniques or photomontage—were discernible, the final result would have been destroyed. These pictures were looked at and enjoyed, and made a decided contribution to the vocabulary of photographic pictorial form.

The composite technique reached its highest achievement with British art and commercial photographers like Robinson, Julia Margaret Cameron, and Francis Bedford. It was not, by any means, limited to Great Britain. In France, for instance, it was often a means for political commentary or satire. A particularly vicious piece of propaganda was produced in 1867: it is reported to have been possible to purchase nude photographs of the Empress Eugénie and the Duchesse de Morny at the Exposition Universelle of that year.34 Obviously, they were faked. The faces of these public figures, obtained from any of the numerous carte-de-visite portraits then available, could easily have been pasted atop naked bodies, in turn pasted atop a scene of the Jardins des Tuilleries. Skillfully done, and then rephotographed, a public expecting the photograph to be incapable of falsity would have willingly accepted them as true. Violent political criticism and slander, dangerous for the cartoonist during the Second Empire, was quite simple with a nonsignatory art such as photography, plus suggesting an even greater amount of veracity than, say, a lithographic drawing. Unfortunately, no extant example of this particular image seems to have survived, but other similar ones still exist.

Positive propaganda was also effected by pasted photomontages. In order to assist him in documenting the Paris Commune’s uprising in May of 1871, the Parisian photographer E. Appert fabricated a series of scenes such as executions and assemblies out of the pieces of separate photographs. Not being present at the occurrences and not possessing the needed equipment for instantaneous records of activities, photographers like Appert in Paris and Notman in Canada could create fictive reconstructions of recent scenes that were usually naive and makeshift, but simple, clear and possessed of the necessary impact usually a characteristic of better propaganda and advertising.35 William Notman’s reputation for such pictures was well recognized throughout North America; one of his specialties within this genre was the “recording” of large groups of people within spacious interiors, such as the New York State Assembly in its chambers.

While the reasons for using manipulative techniques in their picture-making was similar for all concerned—technical limitations, failure to be present at the right time, etc.—the basic methods differed between the earlier British exponents and later practitioners. Robinson and Rejlander both combined different negatives on a single sheet of paper. Bedford, Appert and Notman, on the other hand, cut out the desired portions of already complete images and rearranged these parts into a new image. This process is much closer to what is now considered photomontage, and its limitations in a naturalistic vein are obvious. But both combination printing and the cut-and-paste technique are methods for producing composite imagery. Also, both processes are equivalent in that there is a greater degree of hand manipulation than with any other method, leading to otherwise impossible visual statements. The notion that photography is completely dependent upon what appears before the camera by chance—a position held by many 19th-century critics—is thrown into serious doubt by the sheer nature of composite photography.

From about 1860 through to the end of the century, more and more varied sorts of popular formats for photography were developed. Photographs were collected and bound into albums by the gross, and from the demand for pictures came a welter of cheaply produced group scenes, celebrity portraits, and entertaining arrangements. Like Ritzmann’s advertising cabinet card, Group of Actors, the principal rationale for such pictures was the satisfaction of a large public who wanted pictorial reminders of its popular heroes and heroines. On a slightly more private level, vacation remembrances were often handled in a similarly awkward and naive manner. By photomontaging two or three images together, travelers’ portraits, made in the security of the studio atop papier-maché rocks, could be joined to some awesome and majestic backdrop, close to which the subjects would never have dared venture. As limited as it might be when compared with more sophisticated High Art productions, such “folk” imagery can be delightful; often it proffers exciting visual caprices, constituting a substantial vernacular thesaurus of photographic experimentation.

The furthest-reaching manifestations of “folk” imagery in photography during the 19th century were certainly the family albums and scrapbooks.36 For the most part, these albums, as ubiquitous as the family Bible in most late century homes, were simple accumulations of cartes-de-visite and/or cabinet-sized portraits. Yet alongside the likenesses of aunts, uncles and siblings, there are frequently found photographs of such varied subjects that their objective rationale for inclusion at times defies analysis. A fundamental explanation can possibly be built around the desire to “see” more and more of the world and its material filler. A fascination with collecting these photographic images sprang up clearly after the popularization of inexpensively produced formats. Sometimes called “cartomania,”37 this “need” for collecting images extended far beyond familiar portraits to pictures of kings, queens, poets, painters, the famous and the infamous, the heroic and the notorious. Therefore, within a few pages of Queen Victoria or President Lincoln might be found the portrait of an American native chieftain responsible for the massacre of a village, the bullet-ridden vest worn by Emperor Maximilian, or the portrayal of the heads of four decapitated thieves. The rampant public desire for exotica of this kind was noticed even at the time. As early as 1853, Théophile Gautier, disturbed by the seeming lack of moral and ideological values, commented:

. . . art has at its disposal only dead ideas and formulas which no longer correspond to its needs. From this comes this uneasiness, this vagueness, this diffusion, this facility for passing from one extreme to another, this eclecticism, and this cosmopolitanism, this traveling in all possible worlds which leads from the Byzantine to the daguerreotype, from a far-fetched mannerism to a deliberate brutality.38

The early 1860s carte-de visite of Supplicés, graphically of some interest, is pictorially apparent and direct. It is also a photomontaged construction that begs a distinct question. What precisely was the phenomenal nature of the constituent photographic images for the maker of the carte? And, is this image a cultural aberration or the token of an underlying and more general approach to photographic images? That it is a part of a larger tradition of photo-assemblage is attested to by seemingly similar motives elsewhere.

Innumerable family scrapbook albums, made up for the most part, if not wholly, of montaged leaves, have come to view over the last decade. These 19th-century forays into the fantastic and surreal (or “irreal,” to use Mallarmé’s word) imply a desire to create a surrogate world unattainable in any other way. They also imply an attempt, on the part of their usually anonymous makers, to seize on some order or interpretation—in visual terms—for this surrogate world. What is most striking, however, is the apparent comfort the maker felt in dealing conceptually with the photographic image. For the most part, these montaged albums—like the Blount album or the Sackville-West album39—contain page after page of whimsical, if not different, domestic scenes or landscapes, vibrantly watercolored and peopled with a few cut-out figures from portrait cartes-de-visite. Friends and family are manipulated within make-believe, albeit plausible, environments. These pages regularly become complex matrices of perception, and stretch normal expectations about what the photograph signifies. If, as some critics have maintained, the photograph is not seen as a thing in itself but, rather, as a surfaceless substitute for the primary subject—as the thing represented and not the representation of a thing—then the cutting out of recognizable portraits and insertion of them into a landscape is a logical outcome of this perception. The portraits are not seen as “photographs” but as the people themselves. But when, as every so often appears in these albums, the maker groups together cut-out figures arranged within, say, an interior scene, and also includes some cut-out portrait cartes presented as paintings hung over a mantle, with painted frames surrounding them, then another order of acceptance is in operation. For the photograph is no longer treated as a surrogate reality, but as a pictorial reference to a reality. On a single page, therefore, is found evidence that the 19th-century “folk” artist was capable of multileveled perception of the photographic image: it was the subject represented and it was a picture of the subject. The final montage becomes a tableau in which there co-exist pictures of nature, pictures of pictures of nature (a photographic portrait used or seen as a signal of a photographic or painted portrait) and a pictorial ensemble that presents a representation of another reality.

By its very nature, photomontage—and even combination printing—forces a pictorial structure whose basic elements are other pictures or parts of pictures. The photomontage, from Oscar Gustave Rejlander to Jerry Uelsmann and Allan Dutton, is fundamentally a picture of pictures rather than a picture of something before the camera, and as such it begs a type of modernist thinking about images that occurs quite early. Granted, the work already discussed does not, in its finished state, usually transcend a rather straightforward, naturalistic rendition of some fully explicable scene—a scene constructed and not “taken” because of certain technical or physical limitations (and in the case of scrapbook albums, a scene constructed because of a desire for caprice and entertainment, but still a completely understandable and readable structure). This naturalistic “imperative” within the early history of photographic montage continues to the present despite technical advances that decreased photographic limitations. Most commonly in the realm of “camera-ready” copy for photo-mechanical illustrations, cutting and pasting as well as combination printing was quite accessible throughout the 1920s.

The conclusion could be reached, therefore, that when Hausmann, in 1931, felt that the Dadaists “invented” photomontage, he was actually referring to the creation of “very different structures” that were not, in the traditional sense, naturalistic. Was he thinking of the pictorial sorts of construction normally associated with the work of Höch, Grosz and Hausmann himself, or with the “photo-plastics” of Moholy-Nagy? If so, then the lengthy tradition of composite imagery just outlined is completely immaterial, and nearly all of the work stemming from Rejlander’s and Robinson’s ideas and technics of the 1850s is esthetically irrelevant to the Dadaists despite the shared techniques. Apart from mere technical process, however, another strain of photomontage also issued from the late 1850s which visually, thematically and structurally closely anticipates the work of the Dadaists at the end of World War I. Beginning in 1857, the same year that Two Ways of Life was first shown, an entirely different order of composite imagery was developed by both commercial and art photographers. As a sort of alternative to the fabricated naturalism of, say, a LeGray or an Altobelli, these images proffered a representational irrationality and an illogical irreverence to the “straight” photographic image. They were much closer in feeling and sensibility to the products of the Dadaists to come than anything else produced during the last century. It would seem that as early as 1857, the same year that Rejlander did his Two Ways of Life, the Scottish photographer George Washington Wilson created an entirely new and totally unexpected kind of image. This image antedated the montage production of the Dadaists by some six decades and shared many more modernist structural, as well as thematic, features.

Robert A. Sobieszek is associate curator at the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House. The exhibition “Composite Imagery in Nineteenth Century Photography” will open there in October. Part II of this essay will appear in a forthcoming issue of Artforum.



The author is indebted to many individuals and institutions for their help in this research. While most cannot be named in this space, special thanks are due Professor Lorenz Eitner of Stanford, Mr. Nathan Lyons of the Visual Studies Workshop, and Mr. Jerry Uelsmann, who still believes “Rejlander Lives,” and to whom this study is dedicated.

1. Raoul Hausmann, “Peinture nouvelle et photomontage,” Courrier Dada, Paris, 1958, pp. 46–49.

2. The small catalogue that accompanied the show, with texts by Domela Nieuwenhuis and G. Kluzis on photomontage and photomontage in the U.S.S.R., is an important source: Fotomontage, Berlin, 1931.

3. Hausmann, p. 47. Cf. also Hausmann’s “Fotomontage,” A biz Z, 16 (May 1931), p. 61.

4. Two exceptions to this critical stance are Dr. Richard Hiepe’s excellent catalogue Die Fotomontage, Geschichte und Wesen einer Kunstform, Ingolstadt, 1969, and Herta Wescher, Die Collage, Cologne, 1968. A more recent publication, Dawn Ades, Photomontage, New York, 1976, devotes only three pages to pre-Dada antecedents as “precursors and popular pastimes” (pp. 89–91).

5. See William A. Camfield, “The Machinist Style of Francis Picabia,” Art Bulletin, XLVIII/3-4 (September–December 1966), pp. 309–322.

6. José Pierre, “Hannah Höch et le photomontage des Dadaists berhnois,” Techniques Graphiques, no. 66 (November–December 1966), p. 352.

7. To be most precise historically, the term should be “combination printing.” The distinction is important, for the final picture was obtained by multiple printings on a single sheet of paper. There was no cutting and pasting as is, technically, the principal concern or method in photomontage. But, as is mentioned below, the idea of combining multiple parts that are of photographically diverse origins is the same in both cases.

8. C. Jabez Hughes, “Art Photography: Its Scope and Characteristics,” The Photographic News, V/122 (January 4, 1861), p. 4.

9. Unfortunately, the only published biography of Rejlander, Edgar Yoxall Jones, Father of Art Photography: O.G. Rejlander, 1813–1875, Newton Abbott, 1973, is replete with errors and misattributions. Some useful primary information can be found in John Werge’s The Evolution of Photography, with a Chronological Record of Discoveries, Inventions, etc., Contributions to Photographic Literature, and Personal Reminiscences Extending over Forty Years, London. 1890, pp. 98–100. Cf also, Helmut and Alison Gernsheim’s The History of Photography (rev ed.), New York, 1969, pp. 246–7.

10. Both Gernsheim, p. 247. and Beaumont Newhall, The History of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day, New York, 1964, p. 60, state that only the respectable half was shown. Rejlander, however, states quite clearly that the picture was “tilted altogether out of the Edinburgh Photographic Exhibition”; see O.G. Rejlander, “On Photographic Composition,” The Liverpool and Manchester Photographic Journal, n.s. 11/8 (April 15, 1858), p 92. Apparently it was in 1858 that the picture was displayed in Edinburgh with a curtain covering the left half and that it was a year earlier, in 1857, that the print had been “tilted altogether out”; cf. Jones, p. 23.

11. “Respice Finem,” “The Sphere and Scope of Photography in Art,” The Photographic News, IX/363 (August 18, 1865), p. 394. For an interesting discussion of the problems encountered by nude photography see Gisele Freund, La photographie en France au dixneuvième siècle, Paris, 1936, pp. 131ff.

12. The best available discussion of the relationships between Realism and the media of photography and painting is Aaron Scharf, Art and Photography, Baltimore, 1969, pp. 95–107. See also, Robert A. Sobieszek, “Photography and the Theory of Realism in the Second Empire: A Reexamination of a Relationship,” in One Hundred Years of Photographic History: Essays in honor of Beaumont Newhall, ed. by Van Deren Coke, Albuquerque, 1975, pp. 146–159.

13. See Joseph Sloane, French Painting Between the Past and Present: Artists, Critics, and Traditions, From 1848–1870, Princeton, 1951, p. 37.

14. “Respice Finem,” p. 392.

15. Rejlander, pp. 93–94.

16. “Respice Finem,” p. 392.

17. “Respice Finem,” p 392. The author lists some of the main arguments and counters them. The process was simple: (1) Carefully photographing each figure or figural group according to perspectival rules, (2) making positive prints from each negative and using these as masks and stencils of sorts in the final printing, (3) printing the final version on a large piece of paper (in the case of Two Ways of Life, two pieces were used), and (4) “sun-painting” with a magnifying glass in order to blend the edges and shadows together and make the whole more homogeneous. It took Rejlander about six weeks to complete his first print of Two Ways of Life.

18. See the anonymous article, “Pictorial Photography and Combination Printing,” The Photographic News, IX/365 (September 1, 1865), p 409.

19. Rejlander, pp. 92–93.

20. Rejlander, p. 96.

21. It was not until eleven years after Rejlander’s death in 1875 that any serious and comprehensive examination of his work was made. See the series of ten articles by A. H. Wall which appeared in The Photographic News during 1886 and 1887. The most important of these articles for the present purposes are the first two: “Rejlander’s Photographic Art Studies—Their Teachings and Suggestions, Chapter I,” XXX/1456 (July 30, 1886), pp. 483–484, and “. . . Chapter H,” XXX/1460 (August 27, 1886), pp 548–549.

22. J.B.E., “Glance at the London Exhibition of Photographs,” The Liverpool Photographic Journal, 11/15 (March 10, 1855), p. 43. Werge, op. cit., p. 99. cites Rejlander having told how he had added a standing figure behind the portraits of two seated persons; Werge also lists a catalogue entry as “group printed from three negatives.” Thus, the exact number of negatives seems to be in doubt. Wall, however, in his “. . . Chapter 11,” p. 549, claims that it was on account of his lens’s being unable adequately to focus on both the foreground and the background figures that Rejlander had to piece the image together.

23. Berwick and Annan, “Berwick and Annan’s Method of Double Printing,” The Journal of the Photographic Society of London, 11/34 (September 21, 1855), p. 233.

24. For Bayard, see La Lumière, 1/3 (February 23, 1851) cited by James Borcomon, “Notes on the Early Use of Combination Printing,” unpublished ms., 1972. pp. 5–8. For the early German composite, see the article by Wilhelm Horn in Photographisches Journal, I (1854), p. 87; while this reference has not been validated, we are indebted to Ute Eskildsen for it. For LeGray, see Nils Ramstedt, The Photographs of Gustave LeGray, unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Santa Barbara, 1977, passim.

25. V. Blanchard, “On the Production and Use of Cloud Negatives,” The Photographic News, VII/261 (September 4, 1863), pp 424ff.; Frank R. Frappe and Florence C. O’Connor, Photographic Amusements, Including Tricks and Unusual or Novel Effects Obtainable with the Camera, Boston, 1896, passim; and John H. Gear, “Les impressions combinèes,” La Revue de photographie, V (1907). pp. 353ff.

26. Henry Peach Robinson, The Elements of a Pictorial Photograph, London, 1896, p. 102.

27. Cf. Gernsheim, p. 180; and W. Jerome Harrison, A History of Photography; Written as a Practical Guide and an Introduction to Its Latest Developments, New York, 1887, p. 87.

28. George du Maurier’s On Her Deathbed, done for the magazine Once a Week in 1861, is in fact quite similar to Robinson’s photograph; it might be hypothesized that Du Maurier had even taken his idea from the photograph; Quentin Bell, Victorian Artists, Cambridge, 1967, pl. 66. For the older tradition of the “deathbed scene” in late 18th- and early 19th-century painting, see Robert Rosenblum, Transformations in Late Eighteenth-Century Art, Princeton, 1967, pp. 28–39.

29. Shelley’s poem “To Death” was first published without title in T. J. Hogg, The Life of P.B. Shelley, London, 1858, and dated therein as 1810: Thomas Hutchinson, ed., The Complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, New York, 1933, p. 841. Beneath the copy of Fading Away used are hand written the lines: “Must then that peerless form/Which love and admiration cannot view/Without a beating breast, those azure veins/Which steal like streams along a field of snow,/That lovely outline, which is fair/As breathing mantle perish?/ —Shelley.”

30. In a letter to Robinson in 1859, Rejlander states that he is “tired of Photography for the public, particularly composite photos, for there can be no gain and there is no honor, but cavil and misrepresentation.” Cited in Newhalt, p. 61.

31. Henry Peach Robinson, Pictorial Effect in Photography; Being Hints on Composition and Chiaroscuro for Photographers; to which is Added a Chapter on Combination Printing, London, 1869, pp. 191–199. Cf. also the same author’s Art Photography in Short Chapters, London, 1910, pp. 52–56, in which is illustrated a step-by-step procedure for this printing technique.

32. Robinson, Pictorial Effect . . ., p. 192.

33. Ibid., p. 192.

34. See James Laver, Manners and Morals in the Age of Optimism, 1848–1914, New York, 1966, p 61.

35. For Norman, see Ralph Greenhill, Early Photography in Canada, Toronto, 1965, p. 46, and Russell J. Harper, A Note on Notman, Montreal 1967, passim.

36. The best single source for 19th-century albums is Wolfgang Brückner, Das Fotoalbum 1858–1918: Eine Dokumentation zur Kulturund Sozialgeschichte, Munich (Stadtmuseum), 1975.

37. Gernsheim, p. 231 and passim.

38. Théophile Gautier, “De l’art moderne,” L’Artiste, 5th série, X (1853), pp. 135ff; cited and translated by Sloane, op. cit., p. 21.

39. The Sir Edward Blount album is in the Gernsheim collection. University of Texas, Austin; the Sackville-West album is in the collections of the International Museum of Photography, Rochester, N.Y. Also see Robert A. Sobieszek, “A Note on Early Photomontage Images,” Image, XV/4 (December 1972), pp. 22–24, for a discussion of similar albums.