Diane Smyth: Peter Kennard [who’s also well known for political photomontage] was at the Slade at the same time as you, how much do you think you have in common?
John Stezaker: I love Peter and respect him but I have a real problem with political photomontage. I did a piece on it called Heartfelt [a play on John Heartfield, the German photomontage artist] and it was my critique of political photomontage. Political photomontage is doing exactly opposite of what I see collage as doing. I always used to make a distinction between montage in a sort of Eisensteinian sense [film-maker Sergei Eisenstein], and collage, which I saw as more a kind of Vertov scene [film-maker Dziga Vertov], a kind of showing of the seams as opposed to a kind of seamlessness. To me, montage approaches the world of photographic images as if they’re kind of particles of speech, and tries to combine them as words to make meaning. My position is the opposite, it’s about the total illegibility of images. That’s the threshold between these two approaches.
Klaus Staeck, the German equivalent of Peter, ended up producing government propaganda, and that’s my problem with political photomontage in the end – it’s only ever about power. For me there’s a naturally subversive power in the image, and the image in our collective cultural subconscious. There’s so much imagery around, but it’s always tied to narrative, pre-eminently in cinema where there is no way we can approach the image any longer without it being tied to the speech, the auditory. Silent movies are a real last moment for cinema as image, since then it’s been a sort of imagery that’s consigned to an unconsciousness – the shots are shown so quickly, at 24th of a second, that we can’t consciously retain them. And all the multimedia that’s around now, to me that’s montage. Everything is montage, we live within a montage, and to me that’s terrifying. A lot of people have declared this, from Lefevre to Baudrillard, this kind of dematerialisation of our experience. We’re in a sea of all that communication. I’m a Luddite really, trying to live out the rest of my life within a mechanical pathway.
Diane Smyth: Do you think collage is a way to slow those images down and make us more consciously aware of them?
John Stezaker: It’s partly to do with that, but it’s also about another kind of momentum, which is the imaginary projection, the movement of the imagination and the sort of flight that can be found in images.
“British Journal of Photography”
In the interview above John Szazeker stated that he is interested about seams in a photograph. The seam, you also may call it a breach, break, brake line or crack in the image.
Yes this is all about photographic art: to break or to cut the surface, to move away from its natural superficiality.
The break in the photograph is offering the space for the recipient to bring in his lifetime experiences, his phantasies and project them on the surface of the image.
Usually you can’t see the cut I am talking about, but here Szazeker makes it easy to see. A sharp knife, and one simple physical cut.
The image above has been nothing but a simple portrait, maybe for job a application or a company leaflet.
An image for the image.
A simple cut offering us to muse about what is behind the surface of this portrait.
For there is always something behind or below the surface.
And that’s where life is hiding.