Static Films and Moving Pictures

Montage in Avant-Garde Photography and Film

Doctoral Thesis / Dissertation, 2008

261 Pages, Grade: cum laude



Montage as Principle
The Origins of Photomontage
Griffith and Proto-Montage
Towards a Definition of Collage/Montage/Photomontage/Assemblage
Montage as Ideology

CHAPTER ONE: Berlin Dada and Early Photomontage
Photomontage as New “Principle” of Structure
The Invention of Photomontage: Conflicting Histories
Raoul Hausmann - Strategies of Subversion
Hausmann and Photography
Hausmann, Schwitters, De Stijl, Rodchenko and Moholy-Nagy
Gaze and Sound: Optophonetics
The Total Woman: Hannah Höch on Art, Individuality and Gender Issues
Femininity and Masculinity in the Post-War Era
Cutting-Up the “New Woman”
Photography as Dynamic Montage
Heartfield’s Propaganda Photomontages

CHAPTER TWO: Towards Constructivism - From Photomontage to the
Functionalist Dream
Constructivist Ideology and its Historical Interpretations
The Ideology of Creativity
The Constructivist Space
New Spatial Procedures: The Frontalisation of Space in Photomontage
Montage as Mosaic
Geometric Cut and Montage
Montage as Plural Locus
Constructivist Page Design and Photomontage: A European Perspective

CHAPTER THREE: Machining the Unconscious - Technology in the Service of a
New Art
Moholy-Nagy’s Bauhaus Photograms and Photoplastics
Surrealism: Semantic and Visual Construction/Deconstruction
Max Ernst - From Dadamax to Fatagaga
The Surrealist (Self-)Portrait

CHAPTER FOUR: Avant-Garde Film and Montage
Photography versus Film
Montage: A Simple Cut?
The Aesthetic Implications of Using Collage in Film
Cinema, Music and Painting
Painting According to the Language of Music
Principles of Counterpoint: Orchestration of Movement and Orchestration of Time
Coloured Rhythm
Synchronising Music and Image: Acoustical Laws and Optical Expression
German “Absolute Film” Encounters Montage

CHAPTER FIVE: Soviet Montage, Rhythm and the City
Eisenstein, Vertov and Cultural Context
The Visual Rhythm of the City
The City Symphony
Avant-Garde Film, Narrative and Gender
The Concealed Camera of the City Symphony

The Ethics of Montage
Bloch, Brecht, Benjamin, Lukacs, Gestalt Theory and Montage
Tretyakov, Arvatov and Brecht
The Category of Montage
From Instrument of Enlightenment to Totalitarian Propaganda



Primary Sources

Secondary Sources


Montage as Principle

Peter Bürger, whose Theory of the Avant-Garde (1984) has moulded our perception of avant-garde art practices for the past three decades, recognises the significance of theorising montage because “without the avant-gardist notion of montage numerous realms of contemporary aesthetic experience would be inaccessible”.1 This statement makes it all the more surprising that so little writing can be found on “montage as principle” and the present thesis will attempt to remedy this. Bürger crucially underpinned the importance of montage - the dominant artistic principle of the avant- garde - and understanding its aims and achievements is clearly necessary for the better cognition of contemporaneous art production. Montage has traditionally been analysed according to which medium is used - photography, film, painting - and has not been extensively and systematically investigated comparatively. Since montage, simply seen as an act of cutting and gluing, is inherent to both photography and film and since the Soviet montage school has provided us with an integrating framework and a set of categories from which to initiate an investigation, the scope of this thesis will be restricted to these two mediums. It is evident that montage as structuring principle needs to be approached in an interdisciplinary fashion.

The vastness of the subject at hand immediately appears as a major challenge. The term montage has been used to refer to the formal principle at work in many of the most distinctive cultural products of the early decades of the twentieth century: the hybrid Dada images of George Grosz, John Heartfield, Hannah Höch and Raoul Haussman; the fragmented literary narratives of Dos Passos’s Manhattan Transfer and Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz; the cinematic editing techniques of Dziga Vertov, Sergei Eisenstein, and Walter Ruttman; the episodic theatrical structure of Edwin Piscator’s Trots Alledam; the multilayered exhibition spaces conceived by Frederik Kiesler, El Lissitsky, and Herbert Bayer; and the multiple exposure photographs of Edward Steichen and Barbara Morgan.

This thesis does not claim to present a comprehensive survey of the myriad uses of montage devices. Rather, it will concentrate on the study of photographic and cinematic montage and limit its scope to works produced in Europe, Russia and America between 1919 and 1939. Why these two art forms? The relationship that exists between them is of crucial importance for the understanding of avant-garde art in general: the invention of photomontage by the Berlin Dadaists marked the point where technological reproduction became a recognised, integral part of artistic production. The emphasis will thus be placed on the aesthetic principles behind the photographic and cinematic endeavours which abounded in the first decades of the twentieth century. This thesis will look at montage practice between the two World Wars in an attempt to suggest the complexity of relations between art, mass media and everyday life. In doing so, the present thesis will also set out to explore the following hypothesis: that for much of the first half of the twentieth century, montage served not only as an innovative artistic technique but functioned, too, as a kind of symbolic form, providing a shared visual idiom that, more than any other, expressed the tumultuous arrival of a fully urbanised and industrialised culture.

Montage is the aesthetic practice of combination, repetition and overlap, which links the worlds of art, design and film. Works constructed using the montage principle suggest a new way of seeing - not just a new way of sighting such traditional subjects as the figure, the urban locale, or the domestic space - but a new way of perceiving culture. Cubists also inserted materials, mostly painted materials imitating newspaper headlines or even chair caning, into their paintings, while Dadaists incorporated actual cut-out photographic material. It is by placing advertising copy alongside fine art photographs and newspapers beside film posters that the complicated relations between the creation, production and utilisation of images are revealed. Through images that at times integrate text, often conjure unreal space, and always incorporate a degree of narrative breakdown, the present thesis invokes the discontinuous and the ruptured as the talisman of the twentieth century. Through the description of images with radical distortions of scale, miniaturism and jarring incorporation of text, the thesis will argue that “montage as principle” sought not merely to represent the real - as Cubism did through the integration of new material - but, also, to extend the idea of the real to something not yet seen. Montage offers a kaleidoscopic expanded vision which, by collapsing many views into one, suggests an experience of unfolding time. In effect, montage replaces the image of a continuous life glimpsed through a window frame - the heritage of the fine arts since the Renaissance - with an image, or set of re- assembled images, that reflect a fast-paced, multifaceted reality seamlessly suited to a synthesis of twentieth century documentary, desire and utopian idealism.

Montage is a term that designates the new technical procedure which arose at the beginning of the twentieth century, involving novel materials put together by artists who had acquired a new self-understanding of their role. Montage marks the point where technology entered the realm of art, where photography became an integral part of the work of art. The technique developed by the Dadaists allowed them to incorporate the new material of photography into their art work, which they now called “photomontage”. They thus dispensed with the old criteria of uniqueness, originality, handicraft, and personal style. The Dadaists truly revolutionised traditional concepts of artistic production and this also altered the artist’s role, they began seeing themselves as engineers, as Hannah Höch explained: the main aim of photomontage was “to integrate objects from the world of machines and industry into the world of art”.2 In the same vein, Raoul Hausmann added: “We called this process photomontage because it embodied our refusal to play the part of the artist. We regarded ourselves as engineers, and our work as construction: we assembled [in French: monter ] our work, like a fitter”.3 This quote is of particular importance - and will be returned to in Chapter 1 - since it emphasises the interpenetration of art and technology which, in turn, revolutionised the functions of art: art was now able to depart from the realm of conventional beautiful semblance, which had previously been taken as the only sphere where it could thrive.

The technique of montage experienced a particularly brilliant expansion during the first decades of the twentieth century, as much in the visual arts, photomontage, cinema, poetry, novels (Breton, Dos Passos and Döblin) as in the theatre - in its literary forms (Tzara, Vitrac, Litmontage, Brecht), as well as in its scenic ones (Meyerhold, Eisenstein, Piscator). Experimental researchers proliferated in all forms of artistic practice. Experiments in painting, in particular, affected the arts of photomontage and film. Indeed, nearly all avant-garde experimentation with photomontage and film was carried out by painters (George Grosz and Walter Ruttmann), as well as artists who were fully aware of contemporary pictorial issues (Man Ray and René Clair). Cubist and Futurist compositional elements, used to convey dynamically motoristic movements, were developed further. Their technique of depicting motion through the superimposition of successive images lies at the heart of photomontage and film. Montage takes over composition and visual organisation and centres on disparity, disintegration, disorganisation and heterogeneity. Although montage in photography and film truly became the quintessential structural principle used by the avant-gardes, the source of its inception in both media is very different as we shall see in the following sections.

The Origins of Photomontage

The art of photomontage could be said to have started just after the First World War with the Berlin Dadaists, but the manipulation of photographs already had a history going back to the invention of photography in the mid-19th century. Since its inception the photographic medium has always encouraged experimentation: firstly because of its reproducible character, and secondly because it is hyper realistic and mimetic - a trait which artists have distorted in order to conjure up new realities. Direct-contact printing of objects placed on photographic plates, double exposures, and composite pictures made by darkroom masking were all popular during the Victorian era. During 1834 and 1835, William Fox Talbot devised a process based on the light sensitivity of silver salts that allowed him to develop the direct contact printing of objects - mostly ferns, leaves, lace and drawings - onto photographic plates. In the 1920s, a new wave of artists such as Christian Schad, Man Ray and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy rediscovered this technique and took it onto another artistic level. Indeed, Talbot’s pictures, which he called photogenic drawings, contained the seed of modern photography and inspired the production of photograms - camera-originated negatives and positive prints from negatives of engravings.

Besides this practical use of combination photography - double exposures, double printing and composite photographs - Victorians discovered the amusement to be had from postcards of the wrong head stuck on a different body, or the creation of strange or impossible creatures. The Englishman Francis Galton used photography to construct physiognomic types. Taking the technique further, Galton’s Inquiries into Human Faculty, first published in 1883, included composite photographs made by precisely- aligned multiple exposures of individuals such as criminals or consumptives. Highly influential, Galton’s work touched many responsive chords: it fed directly into the literary and painterly tradition of the picturesque type - a subject stripped of limiting details to reveal its universal characteristics of class or profession - and exploited racial and cultural stereotypes. Numerous composite photographic portraits appeared in the 1890s as this became a form of entertainment with newspapers. Trick photography thus became extremely popular - comic postcards, photograph albums, screens, military mementoes all made use of the techniques of cutting out and reassembling photographic images.

Even with an art form as young as photography, there were the purists who regarded composite works as illegitimate: the French Photographic Society banned them from their exhibitions. Despite this opposition, many good examples of complex combination printing have survived, often with “high art” themes. Oscar Gustave Rejlander thought of photography in its relation to painting “as an aid to [the painter’s] art, not only in details but in preparing what may be regarded as a most perfect sketch of [his] composition”.4 The dramatic dimensions (78.7 cm x 40.6 cm) of his 1857 The Two Ways of Life (Fig. 1) as well as its complex composition are clearly in tune with the tableaux vivants of classical academic painting. It depicts a sage guiding two young men towards manhood. One looks with some eagerness towards gambling, wine, prostitution and idling, whilst the other looks towards figures representing religion, industry, family and charitable works. In the centre appears the veiled, partly clothed figure symbolising repentance and turning towards the good. Rejlander took close to six weeks to complete this image, easily composed of thirty different negatives. His method allowed him to associate various elements by photographing each component in isolation and then assembling them onto the same sensitive sheet of paper. He prepared a negative for each element of the composition and camouflaged portions that were not a part of the final work with black velvet. By contact, he then exposed his light sensitive paper successively under each negative. This method of masking unexposed areas by pieces of black velvet foreshadowed the precise realism of political photomontage; John Heartfield, for example, employed professional photographers to seamlessly blend his ideas in the darkroom. Other types of early composite images were produced by a more primitive “cut and paste” technique, and the final picture then re-photographed, an approach to montage that has persisted ever since, and still finds favour with contemporary montage artists such as Sean Hillen.

Often the spur to produce such unconventional, rule-breaking work was a chance “mistake”. In the early days of collodion plates, before the invention of photographic paper, the plates were reused, and had to be thoroughly cleaned between exposures. If this was not carried out properly, a double exposure would result, sometimes ruining a careful composition, but occasionally producing a chance work of art - a concept subsequently taken up by Dada and Surrealist artists. According to Dawn Ades in her book entitled Photomontage (1984), the making of composite photographs in Victorian times also resulted from the technical deficiencies of the materials available.

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Fig. 1 The Two Ways of Life, Oscar Rejlander, 1857

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Fig. 2 Fading Away, Henry Peach Robinson, 1858

Landscape photographers would find that it was possible to have either the land or the sky properly exposed, but not both simultaneously, so the practice of taking two exposures and combining them in the darkroom became common. John Morrissey, for example, cut out, pasted together and re-photographed reproductions of pictures from American Photography and placed them against a specially-prepared background. The limitations of photography also led Henry Peach Robinson to perfect the idea of combination printing, for which he is particularly remembered; it is possible that he was first introduced to this technique by Rejlander. The technical difficulty of portraying sky as well as subject on the same negative caused him to accumulate a stock of negatives of the sky, to be incorporated into his works. Perhaps his most famous picture is Fading Away from 1858 (Fig. 2), a composition of five negatives, in which he depicts a girl dying of consumption. Nowadays we have developed graduated filters to overcome the problems of exposure, but out of these combination prints that represented an initial solution, photomontage, as we know it, emerged. The use of montage in cinema followed the same pattern of evolution: it was first used by Griffith and other early filmmakers as a means to create a continuity of sorts between shots, and later adapted by the Russians to create complex compositions and engage the viewer in a quest for meaning.

Griffith and Proto-Montage

As mentioned previously, since cutting and gluing are inherently part of the photographic and filmic mediums montage can be seen as a basic operation in cinema. Interpreted this way montage is the technical feature which enabled “primitive” cinema forms to become more complex; since before its advent films were shot using first, uncut single reels. If montage in film is solely regarded as this simple gluing technique, that which unites in a utilitarian fashion two reels, two tableaux or allows the insertion of an inter-title; montage has thus existed since there has been a need for shots to be glued together in order to ensure a certain continuity. What is at stake here is montage as the basic means of expression of cinema, montage as creation and meaning. Traditional film criticism tends to attribute the paternity of montage to the American David Wark Griffith. Arthur Knight describes him as “the father of film technique”5 and Lewis Jacobs recognises Griffith’s considerable influence on Soviet filmmakers. Eisenstein also recognises his importance, in his article “Dickens, Griffith and Ourselves”, he calls Griffith “the wizard of tempo and montage”.6 Art in filmmaking arose from the manipulation of what the Russians saw as the raw and mechanical images of photography to which little intrinsic artistry could be attached. According to Scott Simmon: “It was from [Griffith’s] use of close-ups, intercuts, visual manipulation of images to effect ideas that the Russians developed their theories of montage which were in turn to become the very foundation of artistic filmmaking”.7 Here is a reiteration that Griffith’s was a school of tempo, while the Russians’ was a school of rhythm. Griffith used switchback for purposes of suspense and tension, Eisenstein used montage for purposes of collision and juxtaposition, to create meaning.

Russian filmmakers are the first to have used the technique of montage as artistic device as well as the first to have compiled a theory for it. They were the first to use montage in order to create a multi-perspectival arrangement of shots, to compose a fragmentary space made up of various pieces of material. For his part, Griffith developed a number of cinematic techniques and lists them in a 1913 advertisement in The New York Dramatic Mirror: “The large or close-up figures […] the “switchback”, sustained suspense”.8 Griffith named his technique switchback or crosscutting, and used it solely for the purposes of heightening suspense and maintaining continuity, for a traditional build-up of tension. He had not discovered montage as used by the avant- gardes; he did not use montage for artistic purposes, contrary to how it features in photomontage, for example. For Griffith, montage was a means to develop parallel action, as is here described by Eisenstein:

Griffith approached [montage] through the device of parallel action and, essentially, he progressed no further, making it possible for film-makers from the other half of the globe, from another epoch and with a different class structure, to perfect the matter definitively.9

To see Griffith as the “inventor” of montage thus becomes doubtful. He should more adequately be described as an intuitive experimenter of cinematic narration. Griffith was a pragmatic man driven to experimentation because of a primary need for storytelling. The Soviet filmmakers on the contrary were theorists. Not withstanding the inevitable divergences, all their theoretical texts unanimously celebrate, not without excess, what they consider to be the central nerve of cinematic language: montage. The Russians took up Griffith’s heritage, radicalised it, perfected it, systematised it and, according to Eisenstein, elaborated a sophisticated theory of montage “which owed its full development, definitive interpretation and world recognition to [Russian] cinema”.10 He goes on to state: “Griffith’s role was colossal, but our cinema is neither his poor relative nor his insolvent debtor”.11

When reality (imaginary or taken from living reality) is conceived as a succession or multiplicity of viewpoints shot from afar or from close-up - that is, when an event is considered from near or from afar, from the left or from the right, from higher up or from lower down - then the notion of shot superseded that of the tableau. Three consequences arose from this: an impression of spatial dimension was created; a temporal relation between the shots was thus borne generating an impression of rhythm; these shots and viewpoints created meaning among themselves. Meaning does not occur in a single temporal fragment, since reality is not morselled in small successive shots. It is precisely the succession of fragments that, in turn, produce new meaning between the elements reported in this way. Montage is neither a “natural” phenomenon, nor the fruit of a sudden revelation, but the result of a dialectic, often erratic, evolution playing with both the formal experimentation of a few filmmakers and the slowly maturing gaze of the spectators. Montage is a creative process, a way of thinking, a way of conceiving art through the association of images, but it also is a revolution for the gaze. The next section will survey what forms constituted the first examples of montage and what terms were coined to describe them.

Towards a Definition of Collage/Montage/Photomontage/Assemblage

Thus far, in setting the historical and theoretical stage for the growth of montage and its criticism, the terms montage, and photomontage have been used without differentiating among the variety of montage forms - which also comprise collage and assemblage. Before proceeding further it seems important to briefly make such distinctions. The French word collage, from the verb coller, means “pasting, sticking, or gluing” onto a surface, for example, the application of wallpaper. Papier coll é is somewhat a narrower form of collage referring only to the use of paper, and often referring to the paper collages of the Cubists. Braque is usually credited with the innovation of papier coll é, or pasted paper, in modern art; while Picasso is usually recognised as the first modern artists to use collage in his Still Life With Chair Caning (1911-12) - using extraneous objects stuck to the canvas surface. Picasso introduced metonymic reality literally and physically into his painting. The conceptual nature of collage was thus born.

The term assemblage, associated with collage, refers in French and English to “the fitting together of parts and pieces”, and has been applied to both two- and three- dimensional forms. The concept may include all forms of composite art and processes of juxtaposition.

The term photomontage, the assembly of photographs by pasting or other means, refers particularly to the use of photographs in montages by Dadaists, Surrealists and Constructivists, beginning early in the twentieth century. The word was derived from the German verb montieren, similar to the English verb “to assemble”. The term montage and variations on it have also been used in relation to film, particularly by Sergei Eisenstein, in The Film Sense (1942). There he refers to metric, rhythmic, tonal, overtonal, and intellectual montage.

The wide artistic interest awakened by the Cubist collage techniques pioneered by Picasso and Braque around 1912, as well as the influential adaptations of collage by the Italian Futurists and the early Russian avant-gardists, should be seen as crucial sources for the subsequent development of photomontage. One result of this mixed ancestry of photomontage has been a lasting confusion of terminology, with attempts to make general formal distinctions between papier coll é, Klebebild, Fotoklebebild, Wirklichkeitsausschnitt, photocollage, and photomontage yielding little in the way of helpful clarification.12

For the purpose of this thesis, a more useful starting point is that provided by the German art historian Franz Roh in 1925. Roh described montage as a precarious synthesis of the two most important tendencies in modern visual culture - extreme fantasy or extreme sobriety - or, put another way, the realism of the photographic fragment and the pictorial techniques of modernist abstraction.13 Equally helpful in beginning to approach the perhaps daunting assortment of montage material presented here is the definition of photomontage advanced in the 1930s by the Soviet critic Sergei Tretyakov.14 Writing about Heartfield, Tretyakov proposed that photomontage begins whenever there is a conscious alteration of the immediate meaning of a photograph - by combining two or more images, by joining drawing and graphic shapes to the photograph, by adding a significant spot of colour, or by adding a written text. All of these techniques serve to divert the photograph from what it “naturally” seems to say, and to underscore the need for the viewer’s active “reading” of the image.

Gustav Klucis manifested a very strong interest for the technique of photomontage from the early 1920s on, when he worked extensively on the design of posters. His claim for photomontage rests on its potential for political effectiveness and for realism.15 In 1931 a text of his was published in Literatura i iskusstvo which describes and defines photomontage. It seemed important here to include the whole text as it provides a very clear indication of the issues of content, both in formal and political terms:

The method of photomontage is divided into two organically related processes: 1) the preparation of the individual elements (the photomechanical processes); 2) the process of montage itself (combination and organization of the elements).

To ensure the utmost activation of the materials photomontage employs the following principles for the organization of its materials (montage): a) use of different scales (with the aim of heightening the impact of the work and replacing the traditional and restrictive use of perspective) which itself offers very significant compositional possibilities; b) use of highly contrasting colours and forms; c) activation through liberated placement of elements (cutting them out from the passive background and actively colouring them; employing extreme contrasts of chromatic and achromatic colour).

Klucis enlightens us as to the logic of the photomontage form and offers a very compelling analysis of the characteristics that make photomontage a distinctive form of communication: the alteration of meaning produced by intervention. He goes on:

[…] The photograph fixes a static moment, an isolated shot. Photomontage visualizes the dialectical unfolding of a theme of a given subject, the dialectical unity between political slogan and representation. Photography and the photograph are technical means for creating a representational form, they constitute documentary material but they are not ends in themselves. Like any other art, photomontage solves the problem of so- called pictoriality by presenting the manifold and interrelated character of reality, by revealing the concrete manifestations of the constructive socialist project precisely through the combination of elements (the method of photomontage).

[…] Photomontage is not a form but a method […] a method that does not start from form, but from the conditions that determine all form: the task specific to the individual poster (or book, etc.), the broad mass for whom the individual work is intended, the relevant location (square, feet, window display, department store), the processes of mass production (printing techniques).

Each work is treated in a different manner in accordance with the specific conditions of the individual concrete case. By its very essence, the technique of photomontage resists canonization and excludes the clichés of aesthetic convention. Its fundamental aim is to foreground the given phenomena in a dialectical manner, i.e. in their relationship to other forms and according to their significance for further development.16

Photomontage is here portrayed as having the potential for a striking and powerfully agitational impact drawing its effectiveness from the unexpected combination of heterogeneous and isolated reality fragments torn from their context. So far it has been shown that montage, in all its forms (photographic, filmic, literary, etc.), has had an enormous impact on how we perceive and respond to the world around us. As society has become increasingly modernised, so too has vision become progressively fractured, and artists have constructed their own visual and/or virtual realities. By looking at the origins of montage, twentieth-century strategies of Dadaist, Surrealist, Constructivist photomontage, and Western and Eastern European filmic montage the present work will explore how artists, filmmakers and graphic designers have used montage in order to provoke an active response on the part of the observer.

Montage as Ideology

The fact that photomontage and cinema will remain a privileged field of research has driven the framework of this thesis to historicise the technique of montage while rooting it within the ideological, literary and theoretical debate that surrounded its elaboration. Since the complexity and heterogeneity of montage practices introduced is too vast to subsume under a single theoretical viewpoint, the present thesis will attempt to demonstrate in a montage-like dynamic oscillation - moving from the historical context to the analytical - that such a multiplicity of perspectives is productive when analysing a wide variety of photographic and filmic works.

The development of montage took place within the framework of a vast ideological literary and theoretical debate between Walter Benjamin, Bertold Brecht, Ernst Bloch, Georg Lukàcs, Boris Arvatov and Sergei Tretyakov. Their ideological considerations were complex, profound and lively. In this debate, the artistic process was understood as susceptible of rendering a new treatment of reality, a new way of grasping its components, oppositions and contradictions, a new way of showing them and thus acting upon them. This thesis will not adopt a single method of analysis but rather its approaches will be as multiple as its perspectives: technical, aesthetic, sociological and ideological. Montage will thus be analysed through its usage in photomontage and film; through its structure; through the materials it assembles; in the way it unfolds in space and time; the relations and tensions that are borne out of the confrontation of é l é ments mont é s. The expected effect that montage has upon the spectator will also be studied, whether it is a conscious or chance effect. More importantly, the present thesis will attempt to map out the extent to which the technique of montage has provoked the emergence of new art forms, of new artistic structures. Its aim is thus threefold: to consider the scope of montage in photography, dealing with the treatment of photomontage by Berlin Dadaists, Russian Constructivists, Bauhaus artists, and Surrealists; to look at montage in cinema through avant-garde film (by artists such as Walter Ruttmann, Hans Richter, Viking Eggeling, Man Ray, and Marcel Duchamp), the work of Sergei Eisenstein (adapting photomontage techniques among others into the filmic mode) and through the perception of the city as an object incorporated into montage (in Berlin Symphony of a Great City, Man With the Movie Camera, and A Propos de Nice); and finally to address the theoretical debate about Gestaltung and montage which burst forth within the German intelligentsia represented by Benjamin, Bloch, Brecht and Lukàcs; and within the Russian circles in particular with Arvatov and Tretyakov. It is hoped that the resonances borne out of the investigation of the photographic and filmic practices will lead to the better understanding of a montage principle and ultimately to a better understanding of avant-garde art.

CHAPTER ONE: Berlin Dada and Early Photomontage

As mentioned in the previous chapter, photomontage as developed by the Berlin Dadaists marks the point where technological reproduction became a recognised, integral part of artistic production. Indeed, Dada marks a rupture with the previously accepted canons of uniqueness, originality, handicraft, and personal style. Dadaists envisaged art as embedded in its epoch - this explains their use of new materials in order to reflect and reveal the surrounding “cultural situation”.1 What the Dadaists referred to as the photomontage was to them the logical place to begin the formation of a new language and myth.2 As had the Die Brücke artists, the Cubists, the Futurists, and numerous other avant-garde groups, the Dadaists worked profusely, creating their own testing ground in which their art works were developed. Until several months after the first official Dada exhibition was held in Israel Neumann’s Graphisches Kabinett in May 1919, there were two distinct entities which dominated the Dada scene. The first comprised of the association between George Grosz and John Heartfield while the second was represented by Raoul Hausmann and Hannah Höch. Scholars have often tried to characterise Grosz and Heartfield as the “political” wing of the movement while Hausmann and Höch were designated the “aesthetic” Dadaists. The Dadaists’ own promotion of their fictional personas (Hausmann the Dadasoph, Grosz the Dadamarshal, and Heartfield the Dadamonteur) suggests that their associations with one another were based in part on their desire to promote the extremes of political or aesthetic radicalism dominating the Berlin Dada circle.

It is difficult to talk about Dada “in general”. The movement consisted of a scattering of specific groups (Zurich Dada, New York Dada, Berlin Dada, Hannover Dada, Cologne Dada, and Paris Dada). It was extremely short-lived, defying all attempts to define it or ascribe it precise meaning. As Hausmann said in 1921, “Dada is more than Dada”. The movement covered a wide range of different intentions. Meetings were loosely structured to minimise misunderstandings, but still there were constant, serious conflicts. Certain artists, like Hans Arp, Tristan Tzara and Hans Richter, chose Dada because it allowed them to synthesise creativity and derision. Others, like Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia, found in Dada the basis of a nihilistic art. And yet more, like Grosz and Heartfield, combined mockery, revolt, violence and radical political engagement.

Dada wanted to give expression to modern life - to its noises, its rhythms, its mechanical character, its lack of meaning, its absurdity and the simultaneity of images and sounds. Along with Futurism, Dada was fascinated by the speed, chaos and violence of an Americanised world (Johannes Herzfelde was so enamoured with America that he changed his name to John Heartfield). With Cubism, Dada shared the will to translate visual multiplicity into reality. To achieve this, there had to be a renewal of artistic practice. Perhaps, in 1918, painting still seemed a viable source of “new material”. Soon afterwards, photomontage, collage, film, posters, phonetic and bruitist poems became the unassailable new means of expression. The Dadaists had initially targeted the academicism of Expressionism in particular, but they were eventually forced to realise that painting epitomised classical art and ended up rejecting this art form as a whole.

The contention of this chapter is to survey the social and political context in which the first photomontages appeared, present the main protagonists involved in using this new medium, as well as describe the aesthetics involved in the construction of photomontage. The implications of such practices should lead to a re-thinking and a re-assessment of photomontage as it is portrayed in the existing literature.

Photomontage as New “Principle” of Structure

Dadaists placed their highest hopes in photomontage. Whatever the technique used - the montage of painted, graphic, typographic and photographic elements; the montage of photographic parts only, accompanied or not by captions - opened up the photomonteurs’ possibilities by shattering the representation of reality, revealing it in fragments. They could now play on the explosion of space, a sort of static cinema; on the multiplication of perspectives, scales and styles within a common ensemble and; above all, on the dialectical and provoking opposition of form, structure, images and meanings. In this respect, Hausmann’s The Art Critic (Fig. 3) and ABCD (Fig. 4) are particularly representative. Hausmann also claimed:

Photomonteurs and Dadaists alike disagreed with the viewpoint, which they thought was unwavering, that wartime painting represented by post-Futurist Expressionism had failed because of its non-objectivity, its lack of commitment and its conceptual void; and that not only painting, but all genres and all techniques, needed a radical transformation in order to relate to the life of the time.

Photomontage offers the widest range of techniques and constitutes the most elaborate dialectic of forms.

We can state that photomontage, and photography as much as silent cinema, contribute in various and unpredictable ways to our knowledge of optical, psychological and social structures - through the clarity of its means where content and form, meaning and its interpretation intermingle and cannot be dissociated.3

This said, it is true that there is not a single and unique style of photomontage, but a plurality of styles which correspond to the ways in which the various artistic personalities manipulated the medium. For Hausmann and Höch, the political denunciation of the bourgeoisie calls for a kind of satirical spontaneity as a reflection of the world’s destruction through the shattered forms it projects. This satire did not exclude a certain form of narcissism typical of Dada which sometimes became a game in itself. Interpreting the photomontages of Hausmann or Höch is not an easy task; one must hold certain keys in order to access their meaning. Beyond the formal qualities of a great number of photomontages, they often offer provocation verging on the joke - an art form accessible only to the initiated. Höch and Hausmann, along with George Grosz, signed an open letter to the Novembergruppe where they stated: “We must be the expression of the creative forces, the instrument of the necessities of our time and its masses, and we negate any lineage to those traffickers and academics of tomorrow. Adhesion to the Revolution, to the new community is not a purely verbal creed; we have seriously undertaken what we consider to be our task: collaborate to the construction of a new human community, the community of workers”.4 There seems to be some discrepancy between the work of the photomonteurs and their political position. This did not apply to all the photomonteurs of the Berlin circle, since John Heartfield produced political works exclusively from 1929 onwards: his political opinion fuelled his artistic work and conversely. Heartfield privileged simple photographic constructions meticulously accompanied by captions that would shock audiences into political awareness. Hausmann, on the other hand, privileged texture and spontaneity assembled in complex visual compositions. Hausmann’s works are not as accessible as Heartfield’s. In his article “Definition der Foto-Montage”,5 Hausmann seems to pin down the power of photomontage: “[…] its contrast of structure and dimension, rough against smooth, aerial photograph against close-up, perspective against flat surface, the utmost technical flexibility and the most lucid formal dialectics are equally possible […] The ability to manage the most striking contrasts, to the achievement of perfect

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Fig. 3 The Art Critic, Raoul Hausmann, 1919-20

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Fig. 4 ABCD, Raoul Hausmann, 1923-24

states of equilibrium […] ensures the medium a long and richly productive span of life […]” Hausmann's montages were some of the most radical of the early period of Dada, demonstrating his somewhat wild and free personality and lack of inhibition. He was not a purist and often combined media, using paint extensively in some of his best works. Still they remained montages as a result of the philosophical approach that he took to the making of art; and conversely his artistic production infused his theoretical framework.

For Heartfield, on the other hand, photomontages would have to be composed according to a very strict set of parameters. He would insist that they should include a single photograph and would go to great lengths to make sure his montage appeared as seamless as possible (sometimes hiring professional photographers to do so). All his images were accompanied by captions, since text and image interacted with each other in a similar way to multiple images. Heartfield's use of captions was, and perhaps still is, unsurpassed. Many of his best works utilise famous quotes of leading Nazis, and subtly undermine the intended message by ingenious visual puns. Heartfield was the most politically committed of all the photomonteurs and transformed his art into a political weapon - Kunst ist eine Waffe. Indeed, Heartfield did start off composing photomontages in a style similar to Hausmann’s,6 but as soon as he registered with the communist party he used photomontage as an instrument in the service of class struggle, capable of uncovering the capitalist system, the ruling classes, and of awakening people to the rise of Nazism. We are not dealing with isolated works, with “unique pieces”, but with shock-images and document-images reproduced thousands of times, in the Arbeiter Illustrierte Zeitung for example, and thus reaching the masses. Hans Richter, in his Dada Art and Anti-Art also highlights this difference in style:

Heartfield’s photomontages were often classically composed; Hausmann’s were loud and explosive, not contained by any aesthetic framework. Hausmann’s were certainly fiercer and more uninhibited; Heartfield’s were more direct. Both set standards by which their successors are still judged […]7

As an important factor of the environment in which photomontage developed, this art form offers an alternative to the concentration on the medium of collage in many explanations of Dada art. In the wake of the interest in collage and assemblage in the 1960s, German scholars and historians attempted sweeping explanations of modern art in terms of a Prinzip Collage [collage principle], in which the Berlin Dadaists were credited with the invention of photomontage.8 Frequently either formal concepts - such as formation or destruction - or cultural phenomena - such as the avant-garde - dominated the discussions.9 Disputes as to whether this invention was a mere technique or a principle of thought and formation often obscured the historical context as we shall see in the following section.

Certainly, the Berlin Dadaists’ choice of technique did have significant consequences, especially in their acceptance of mass production. Abhorred by the Expressionists, mass production was bringing culture into the era of mechanical reproduction. This threatened the conventional meaning of images and objects by removing them from their traditional systems of meaning and their roles in religious, political and aesthetic rituals. Such a release of meaning, or negation of aura under the conditions of reproducibility, was later seen by Walter Benjamin as forecasting the melancholic attitude rehabilitated in Surrealism into a state of surprise, a profane illumination. It remains beyond any doubt that the Dadaists thought the context of photomontage was functionally related to destroying the ritualistic function of art and to establishing the conditions of mass production - Höch assembled her works, while Grosz and Heartfield manufactured products.

The Invention of Photomontage: Conflicting Histories

The advent of photomontage was foiled by innumerable disputes, inaccuracies, distortions and petty rivalries. Perhaps desiring recognition in an art world which has tended to construe the history of art as one of linear development within media categories, Grosz, Heartfield, Höch, Hausmann, Gustav Klucis10 and Paul Citroen11 have all made claims to the invention of photomontage. In the dispute concerning the exact origin of the creation of this new technique lays an implicit perception of the importance of the development of photomontage for the understanding of modern art. These conflicting anecdotal accounts regarding who invented photomontage have shifted critical attention away from montage’s primary function: montage expressed the search for a new formal principle in order to suggest a new way of seeing and perceiving art. Montage practices stem from this desire for a novel way to govern structure, to choose materials, to develop these elements in time and space, as well as the relations and See also Richard Hiepe, “Zur Theorie der Photomontage” in Die Fotomontage: Geschichte und Wesen einer Kunstform, exhibition catalogue (Kunstverein: Ingolstadt, 1969). tensions borne out of their conflict. Form could now be placed in context only by its opposite and by the establishment of a relationship between these two opposites in order to create a unity, an artistic whole. The dispute over the invention of photomontage between Hausmann and Grosz developed as early as 1928 with Grosz’s claim:

In 1916, when Johnny Heartfield and I invented photomontage in my studio at the south end of the town at five o’clock one May morning, we had no idea of the immense possibilities, or of the thorny but successful career, that awaited the new invention.12

This tongue-in-cheek account was later corrected by Wieland Herzfelde, who suggested that the word “collage” would be more appropriate and hinted that Heartfield considered what he was doing to be photomontage only in the 1920s.13 Herzfelde’s claim seems substantiated in another version of Grosz’s story as recounted by Richter:

On a piece of cardboard we pasted a mishmasch [ sic ] of advertisements for hernia belts, student song-books and dog food, labels from schnapps - and wine - bottles, and photographs from picture papers, cut up at will in such a way as to say, in pictures, what would have been banned by the censors if we had said it in words. In this way we made postcards supposed to have been sent home from the Front, or from home to the Front. This led some of our friends, [Tretyakov] among them, to create the legend that photomontage was an invention of the “anonymous masses”. What did happen was that Heartfield was moved to develop what started as an inflammatory political joke into a conscious artistic technique.”14

Also in 1928, Jan Tschichold published his Die Neue Typografie,15 which gave Heartfield, who himself was claiming credit for the invention as late as 1969,16 the honour of having invented photomontage while omitting Hausmann’s name altogether. Tschichold’s book prompted an angry letter from Hausmann in which Johannes Baader was credited with “the first so-called Klebebild” [glued image] in March 1918, and Hausmann himself took credit for making the first “tableau made of photoclippings” at the beginning of 1919.17 While his dates are disputable, Hausmann’s terminology is precisely that being used in the 1910s.18 His Gurk (Fig. 5) was published for the first time in Der Dada 2 and was identified then as photomontage. Hausmann later recounted that he adopted the pseudonym “Algernon Syndetikon” after the Syndetikon trademark of the glue he was using at the time.19

By 1930 Grosz had not only moved his date for the creation of “photo-glued-montage- experiments” up to 1915, but had also insisted that the “Grosz-Heartfield Konzern” (the Dada “company” espousing the industrialisation of culture as a gesture against bourgeois cultural institutions) was established in that year.20 Grosz’s inaccuracies of dating prompted another letter from Hausmann to Tschichold asserting that Grosz, along with Höch, was still a student in Emil Orlik’s studio in 1915, and consequently could have had no association so early with photomontage - a claim seriously challenged by the existence of Höch’s 1916 collage Wei e Wolke.21 While Baader’s influence is again mentioned in his letter, Hausmann’s counterclaim, often rehearsed in the Dada literature, of having discovered photomontage during the summer of 1918 when he was on holiday with Höch in the fishing village of Heidebrink on the Baltic island of Usedom, is altogether absent and is nowhere to be found in this early phase of the dispute.22 Nonetheless Höch’s frequent allusions to these events in her reminiscences would seem to corroborate Hausmann’s story.23

In their lodgings at Heidebrink, Hausmann and Höch are said to have noticed an artefact from popular culture that caught their attention. In his book, Dada Art and Anti-Art, Hans Richter describes Hannah Höch’s recollection of how photomontage came to be:

In 1917 or 1918, Hausmann and she had rented a room in Gribow, near Usedom on the Baltic, for their holidays (Hausmann says it was in Heidebrink). On the wall in front of their bed hung a large framed oleograph. In the centre was the youthful Kaiser Wilhelm II surrounded by ancestors, descendants, German oaks, medals, and so on. Slightly higher up, but still in the middle, stood a young grenadier under whose helmet the face of their landlord, Herr Felten, was pasted in. There, in the midst of his superiors, stood the young soldier, erect and proud amid the pomp and splendour of this world. This paradoxical situation aroused Hausmann’s perennial aggressive streak. Of course, this “glueing on” could be used in many other ways; against stupidity and decadence, to lay the world bare in

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Fig. 5 Gürk, Raoul Hausmann, 1919

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Fig. 7 Syntetisches Cino der Malerei, Raoul Hausmann, 1919

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Fig. 6 Preissausschreiben! Wer ist der Schönste?, John Heartfield and George Grosz, 1919

all its abstruse inanity. On his return to Berlin, he began to juxtapose photographic banalities in order to produce abstrusenesses of his own.24

Such artefacts as the ones described in the above passage were common for several decades prior to Dada and must be considered among the sources of photomontage. Indeed, the first photographs incorporated in photomontages by Hausmann were photographs of faces - see, for example, The Art Critic (Fig. 1) - and Heartfield and Grosz also began their photomontage in early 1919 with an emphasis on faces and figures - as with, Preisausschreiben! Wer ist der Schönste?? (Fig. 6), reproduced on the cover of Jedermann sein eigner Fussbal.

Although the quote which follows has already been mentioned in the introduction, it is worth noting that Michel Giroud quotes this excerpt from one of Hausmann’s letters published in 195825 which offers a slightly different version of the facts. While remembering his holidays on the Baltic, Hausmann recalled souvenir images of the military service comprising of a lithography evoking the life of a soldier with the man’s photographic effigy and let forth his joy:

It was as if I had been struck down by lightning: I intensively foresaw that we could make “paintings” entirely composed of cut-up photographs. After returning to Berlin in September, I began to realise this new vision, using photos from the cinema and the press. In my innovatory zeal I also required a name for the technique, and in the company of George Grosz, John Heartfield, Johannes Baader, and Hannah Höch, we decided to call these works “photomontage”. This term translated our aversion towards playing the part of the artist. We regarded ourselves as engineers (whence our preference for work clothes, “overalls”), and our work as construction: we assembled [in French: monter ] our work like a fitter”.26

Thus Hausmann claims to have begun photomontage immediately on his return from Heidebrink in September 1918 and he did make at least one small photomontage for Höch at about that time: a Club Dada postcard with the printed text “Ich liebe Dich!” affixed.27 In February 1919, he published his Synthetisches Cino der Malerei for which he fashioned a photomontage in October 1919 (Fig. 7). Höch’s inventive abstract collage of 1916, Wei e Wolke, employs fragments of Abdeckschablonen (by-products of the process used in the preparation of woodcuts) fully three years before Hausmann incorporated fragments of woodcuts in his photomontages.28 Höch encountered these materials during her studies in 1915 with Emil Orlik, and by 1918 she could have been working with photographic material in her position at the Ullstein publishing house.29 Despite their involvement in collage, the first surviving works of photomontages appear to date from the year after the Heidebrink trip.30

Hausmann may have met Kurt Schwitters at the Café des Westens during the autumn of 1918.31 Schwitters had been coming to Berlin to visit Herwarth Walden since June, when he took part in a Sturm exhibition.32 According to Hausmann, he was approached by Schwitters at his table and when asked what he did, Schwitters responded, “I am a painter, I nail my pictures”.33 Schwitters then requested membership of the Club Dada. Hausmann favoured his application but Huelsenbeck opposed it on the grounds that Schwitters was associated with the Expressionist Sturm circle. While there is clearly corroborating evidence for Schwitters’s interest in Dada and for the rejection of his application to the group, it is probable that either his comment about “nailing” his pictures should be associated with a later meeting, possibly in late June or July 1919,34 when Schwitters exhibited his “Merzbilder” (and possibly Merz assemblages) at the Sturm galleries, or that the initial meeting between the two artists took place in early 1919.35

In 1918 Schwitters was busy working on a series of increasingly abstract drawings in chalk and also produced his first two collages, Drawing A2 Hansi (Fig. 8) and Drawing A6 Hansi. Hansi is above all a homage to Hans Arp, whom Schwitters is also said to have met at the Café des Westens in 1918.36 Hausmann’s collage for Material der Malerei Plastik Architektur (Fig. 9) also owed a debt to Arp, and a mutual interest in Arp and photomontages may well have been intensified in a meeting with Schwitters - especially if Hansi can be associated with Schwitters’s jubilant reaction to the Revolution of 8th and 9th November.37 Particularly significant is the presence of the commercial component - a chocolate wrapper in Hansi - a feature not found in Schwitters’s other signed collage of 1918, Drawing A6. Arp’s use of a commercial wrapper in his Papierbild (illustrated in Cabaret Voltaire), as well as Hausmann’s and possibly Baader’s use of newspaper texts and vernacular phrases, might well have come into discussion. Having found a deep kinship with Schwitters,38 Hausmann may well have been interested in the Merz works in the Schwitters Sturm exhibition of spring 1919. It is nonetheless clear that their deep friendship did not begin to develop until after December 1920, when they were still sufficiently distant from one another that “without knowing it”, they could publish “almost the same statements” as “defenders of nonsense”.39

If the chronology of the preceding passage is taken into account, it would suggest that the invention of photomontage around 1918-1919 seemed of decisive importance only later. Even though early Dada photomontage seems to have little to do with denouncing wartime Europe, it would nonetheless be erroneous to disregard the social and political context in which the artists were living at the time. These artists had suffered from war and witnessed destruction and their art reflected and described this; they were able to transform their art into an ideological weapon. War had invalidated the traditional ideals and humanisms of these artists, who in turn condemned art’s traditional criteria of beauty, unity and harmony as hypocritical and irrelevant. Their art was protest and contestation, and as mentioned earlier, a number of them - Hausmann, Höch and Grosz among them - signed an open letter to the Novembergruppe (1921): “… today art is the protest against bourgeois sleepwalking, against the lingering of exploitation and petit bourgeois individualism”.40 The medium of the photomontage promised a “contact with matter” (Hausmann) and “the most primitive relation to the reality of the environment” (Huelsenbeck). Like the bruitism brought into the movement by Richard Huelsenbeck, the Plastiken [sculptures] of Hausmann, Höch, Heartfield and Grosz, and the incorporation of photographs - and eventually actual objects - in photomontages were intended to supplant Darstellungen [representations] with what Herzfelde referred to as simply Sachen [things].41 At the same time, by incorporating and altering advertisements and journalistic slogans, and by referring to religious and political

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Fig. 8 Drawing Hansi A2, Kurt Schwitters, 1918

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Fig. 9 Material der Malerei Plastik Architekture, Raoul Hausmann, 1918

systems of meaning, photomontage could help draw attention to the conventions which mediate between man and his empirical reality.

Dada artists admired photography because it had an iconic relation to the real, and they hailed the fact that it placed, in Walter Benjamin’s words, “the work of art in the age of [its] technical reproduction”.42 Photography is a mechanical medium which is infinitely reproducible; we could arguably call it a poor man’s painting that can, by means of the press and posters, touch the public en masse. Through their medium, photomonteurs showed those who refuted photography as art that its mechanical aspect was part and parcel of its artistic quality and that, indeed, it was art. Some of these artists even claimed the primacy of machine over art, or at least claimed the primacy of machine art over traditional art founded on the unique inspiration and the hand of man. This is exemplified by the poster presented by Grosz and Heartfield at the Erste Dada Messe of 1920: “Art is dead. Long live Tatlin’s machine art!”

The following sections analyse the work of Hausmann himself, as well as that of his fellow Dadaist photomonteurs - Höch, Grosz and Heartfield. The Dadaists established relations with other European artists - in France, Holland, Belgium, Poland, Hungary, Russia, Czechoslovakia, Italy to name but a few - and discussed and influenced each other’s work extensively.

Raoul Hausmann - Strategies of Subversion

Raoul Hausmann was born in Vienna in 1886. His father, a classical painter, was his first teacher. His early paintings could be said to have been created in a traditional style. Then around 1915, in keeping with the times, his work began to show the influence of the Expressionists. Progressively, his output of paintings became more irregular. During the period of Berlin Dada (1918-1920), he had more pressing concerns - photomontage, phonetic poetry, publications and countless other acts of agitation and provocation in the service of the Dadaist cause. In the midst of all this activity, however, he still found time for painting, in a style that was abstract, Cubist and Constructivist all at once.

Dada attacked what it perceived as the failure of Expressionism - its non-objectivity (its choice of the non-figural), its lack of engagement and its conceptual vacuum - and set out to convey the noise and speed of modern life, the simultaneity and telescoping of sensations. While painting was not the most effective means of doing this, the Berlin Dada manifesto of 1918 still talked about using the “new material in painting”. From 1923, however, Hausmann seems to have become disillusioned with this nostalgic position, for he abandoned painting in favour of optics, photography and esoteric investigations into psychology and ethnography.

Yet, he continued to draw, for his own purposes at least. His style, judging from what survives, was fairly classical.

In truth, it is hard to follow Hausmann’s activities in detail, not only because of the versatility of his personality and work, but because of historical events. Hausmann was a traveller, a tireless agitator and, like many artists of his generation, a victim of the rise of Nazism. As an active (to say the least) member of the avant-garde, consequently deemed a “degenerate artist”, he was forced to leave Germany in 1933. When he emigrated he lost most of his work, just like Kurt Schwitters.

Hausmann’s initial desire was to see reality as it is, to have a sharpened sense of perception. He wanted to uncover “the spirit of our time” - to take up the subtitle of his best-known work dated 1919, a smooth wooden mannequin’s head with technical and numerical prostheses. In his PREsentist manifesto of 1921, Hausmann declared that it was necessary to explore everything that was new, and he subsequently became absorbed with experiments in photography.

The tension of the Dada movement as a whole was doubled by the seriousness and radical politics of Berlin Dada. We should bear this in mind when we consider Hausmann’s personality and activities. Hausmann was a radical anarchist and political militant. He was also an artist who wanted to create an ironic and original expression of the relations that were constantly forming between the most incongruous and banal things - concepts that later fascinated the Surrealists, and reminiscent of their Cadavres exquis, for example. Hausmann’s work as photomonteur went hand in hand with his writing of polemical texts. Dada was boundlessly creative, and, with its irony and black humour, offered no form of consensus - even less a token of reconciliation. Dada’s mockery led not only to creation but to destruction. Understanding this ambivalence allows us to comprehend some of the contradictions found in Hausmann’s works.

As Hans Richter pointed out, Hausmann had “gallows humour” which was borne out of hatred: he turned despair into violence, mockery into destruction. Hausmann’s thoughts on art were quintessentially Dadaist, with a hard edge of Berlin realism regarding art’s role within the new world. This formidable lucidity about the nature of art was the anchor for Hausmann’s dark, raging creativity.

Hausmann and Photography

Art was for Hausmann “the way man teaches himself to recognise the world in himself and himself in the world”.43 He also felt this way of teaching varied according to the culture. Thus in the range of its styles and forms, art is always the product of its time and culture. Dada

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Fig. 10 Dada Cino, Raoul Hausmann, 1920

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Fig. 11 Elasticum, Raoul Hausmann, 1920

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Fig. 12 Tatlin at Home, Hausmann, 1920


1 Peter Bürger, Theory of the Avant-Garde (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), p.22.

2 Aaron Scharf, Art and Photography (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979), p. 28.

3 Hans Richter, Dada Art and Anti-Art (London: Thames and Hudson, 1978), p.118.

4 Dawn Ades, Photomontage (Thames and Hudson: London, 1986); p.7.

5 Arthur Knight, The Liveliest Art: A Panoramic History of the Movies (MacMillan: New York, 1957); p. 31.

6 Sergei Eisenstein, “Dickens, Griffith and Ourselves” in Selected Works: Volume 3: Writings, 1934-47 (British Film Institute: London, 1996); p.196.

7 Scott Simmon, The Films of D.W. Griffith (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1993); p.18.

8 Cited in Simmon, op.cit.; ibidem

9 Eisenstein, op.cit.; p.199.

10 Eisenstein, op.cit.; ibidem.

11 Eisenstein, op.cit.; p. 222.

12 See, for example, Richard Hiepe’s essay in the catalogue , Die Fotomontagen: Geschichten und Wesen einer Kunstform (Ingolstadt: Kunstverein Ingolstadt, 1969), and Charlotte Irene Lusk, Montagen in Blaue: Lazslo Moholy-Nagy; Fotomontagen und Collagen, 1922-1943 (Giessen: Anabas Verlag, 1980); pp 13-17.

13 Franz Roh, Nachtexpressionismus (Liepzig: Klinckhardt und Biermann, 1925); pp 45-46.

14 Tretyakov is mentioned in John Heartfield, Photomontages of the Nazi Period (Universe Books: London, 1977); p. 26.

15 Klucis remained faithful to the Communist Party and to the aims of the Revolution.

16 These excerpts were taken from Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (eds) Art in Theory 1900 - 2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas (Blackwell Publishing: London, 2003); pp 489-491. It is worth mentioning that by the time this text was written Klucis’s modernism rendered him suspect in the eyes of a regime growing increasingly hostile to the avant-garde tradition. An editorial comment was added to the text on the occasion of its original publication (also added in Art in Theory, p.491), which notes both the artist’s implication in the October group and his apparently “formalist” sympathies. Klucis was arrested during World War II and died in Siberia. The comment went as follows: “The Section office of the Spatial Arts of the LIJa [Institute of Literature, Art and Language] in the Communist Academy believes that comrade Klucis’s extended discussion of the problem of photomontage, strongly emphasizing the importance of this visual art, was extremely timely and is generally correct. But we should add that the Section Office considers some of the hypotheses advanced in the discussion paper as incorrect and regards them as unreflective remnants of the artistic principle of the “October” group to which Klucis earlier belonged; i.e. the analysis of the specific character of photomontage, which the author singles out as the most important art at the expense of all the others, and, finally an insufficiently critical attitude towards the early, perceptibly formalist products of photomontage in particular.”

1 In 1918 in Berlin, Richard Huelsenbeck expressed this idea in the Dada Manifesto: “Art in its execution and orientation depends on the time in which it lives - and artists are also the product of their epoch. The greatest art form will be that whose moral content presents the multiple problems of its time, who will let itself be shaken by last week’s explosion, and who will continually strive to rebuild itself following yesterday’s shock. The best artists and strangest artists are those who, at all times, tear and reassemble the shreds of their bodies from the chaos of life’s cataracts; and those who eagerly seize, with bleeding hands and bleeding hearts, the intellect of their epoch.” My translation of Raoul Hausmann, Raoul Hausmann, 1886-1971. Exposition du 2 octobre au 7 d é cembre 1986, (Musée départemental de Rochechouart: Rochechouart, 1986); p.67.

2 Roland Barthes’ analysis of myth is of great relevance here. Published in 1957, Mythologies considers how myth associated with everyday objects and situations are presented in social and cultural values as deceptively natural (see Roland Barthes, Image - Music - Text (London: Fontana, 1982), p.167). Barthe’s process of mythification bears strong parallels to Walter Benjamin’s concept of aura (see “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” in: Benjamin, Illuminations (Fontana: New York, 1968), 211-244, p.240). As Benjamin Buchloh writes: “Barthes’ strategy of secondary mythification repeats the semiotic and linguistic devaluation of primary language by myth and structurally follows Benjamin’s ideas on the allegorical procedure that reiterates the devaluation of the object by commodification” (see “Allegorical Procedure: Appropriation and Montage in Contemporary Art”, Artforum, volume 11, number 1 (September 1982), 43-56).

3 My translation of Michel Giroud and Sabine Wolf (eds); Projectoires 1, Documents Raoul Hausman (Champ Libre: Paris, 1975); p.18.

4 Giroud and Wolf, op.cit.; p.14.

5 Raoul Hausmann’s famous definition is quoted in Hans Richter, Dada Art and Anti-Art (Thames and Hudson: London, 1965); p.116.

6 See, for example, his collaborations with Grosz: Leben und Treiben in Universal City, 12 Uhr 5 Mittags (1919); and Dada-Merika (1919).

7 Quoted in Richter, op. cit.; p. 118.

8 The issue was raised in a symposium held in conjunction with an exhibition entitled Von der Collage zur Assemblage (exhibition catalogue, Nürnberg: Institut für moderne Kunst, 1968). For the proceedings of the symposium, see: Franz Mon and Heinz Neidel, Prinzip Collage (Luchterhand: Neuwied and Berlin, 1968). For criticism of this approach, see Annegret Jürgens-Kirchoff Technik und Tendenz der Montage in der Bildenden Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts (Anabas-Verlag: Giessen, 1968).

9 See, Peter Bürger’s Theory of the Avant-Garde (University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 1984).

10 Klucis claimed that his photomontage Dynamic City (1919-1920) was the first in the USSR. For a full discussion see Dawn Ades, Photomontage (Thames and Hudson: London 1986); pp63-67. For a more detailed description of this photomontage, see Chapter 2.

11 “Citroen is quoted to have said in an unpublished text: “Blumenfeld - who later became a renowned photographer in America - also made a few Dada anti-art works. On one he stuck two houses, such as those found on old postcards, side by side. I thought: what would a sheet of paper completely covered with houses look like? The result would be a type of metropolis. And this is how my first photomontage came to be in 1919.” Citroen called this work, in the new style, Grossstadt. And his later Klebebilder were also made out of streets, houses, buildings, bridges, plains and other elements taken from the big city.” My translation from Karin Schippers, Holland Dada (Querido: Amsterdam, 1974); p.25.

12 Hans Richter, Dada Art and Anti-Art (Thames and Hudson: London, 1965); p.117.

13 Wieland Herzfelde, “The Heartfield Case” in: Joanna Drew (ed.) John Heartfield 1891-1968. Photomontages (Arts Council of Great Britain: London, 1969).

14 Richter, op.cit., ibidem.

15 Jan Tschichold, Die Neue Typographie (Bildungsverband der deutschen Buchdrucker: Berlin, 1928). See also Tschichold’s “Fotographie und Typographie”, Die Form, number 7 (1928); pp 157-159.

16 See, for example, Jean Rollin, “Begegnung mit einem grossen antifascistischen deutschen Künstler” in John Heartfield, exhibition catalogue (Paris, May 1969), cited in Roland März, Der Schnitt entlang der Zeit (Verlag der Kunst: Dresden, 1981); p. 29.

17 Michel Giroud, Raoul Hausmann, “ Je ne suis pas un photographe ” (Éditions du Chêne: Paris, 1975); p. 42.

18 The date is variable in Hausmann’s accounts. See, for example, Hausmann, Courier Dada (Éditions le Terrain Vague: Paris, 1958); p. 79: “En 1919 Baader commença à faire des photomontages.”

19 Giroud, op.cit.; ibidem.

20 Franz Roh and Jan Tschichold, Foto-Auge (Verlag Ernst Wasmuth: Tubingen, 1973); p. 29.

21 Letter from Hausmann to Tschichold dated 9th April 1930, in the Bolliger Collection, Zurich.

22 Raoul Hausmann, “Fotomontage” in Michael Erlhoff (ed.) Texte bis 1933, volume 2 (Text Kritik: Munich, 1982); pp 130-132.

23 See Höch’s corroboration of Hausmann’s story in Richter, Dada Art and Anti-Art; p.117. See also Heinz Ohff, Hannah Höch (Mann Verlag: Berlin, 1968); p.15.

24 Richter, op. cit., ibidem.

25 Raoul Hausmann embarked on writing a French version of “Courrier Dada” in 1945. The original German text - Kurier Dada - was begun in 1939 and completed in 1956. From the onset it seems that this project was not conceived as an historical survey of Dadaism, but rather as a compilation of letters and comments. Between 1945 and 1947, the French version bore the title "Courrier Dada à une jeune femme d’aujourd’hui. Dix et une lettres". Raoul Hausmann had wished for a bilingual publication, but this project never bore fruit. Only the French version was published during the second term of 1958 by Erik Losfeld, (Le Terrain Vague: Paris, 1958).

26 Raoul Hausmann (1958), op. cit.; pp 42-43.

27 Raoul Hausmann, Am Anfang war Dada (Anabas-Verlag Günetr Kämpf: Steinbach and Giessen, 1970); p.45.

28 Gotz Adriani. Collages, Hannah Höch, 1889-1978 (Institut fur Auslandsbeziehungen: Stuttgart, 1985); p.12.

29 Ellen Maurer, “Symbolische Gemälde von Hannah Höch aus den Jahren 1920-1930” (Ludwig Maximilian Universität: Munich, 1983); p.9; Gotz Adriani. Collages, Hannah Höch, 1889-1978 (Institut fur Auslandsbeziehungen: Stuttgart, 1985); p.72.

30 According to Güssefeld, the earliest known photocollages by Höch are dated around 1919 - Oz der Tragöde and Die M ä dchen. Both survive only in photographs in the Höch estate. Delia Güssefeld, “Hannah Höch: Freunde und Briefpartner 1915-1935” (1984); pp 21-23.

31 Letter from Schwitters to Hausmann dated 11th November 1946. In Ernst Nündel (ed.), Wir spielen, Bi suns der Tod abholt: Briefe aus fünf Jahrzehnten (Ullstein: Frankfurt, 1974); p.247.

32 Schwitters signed the guest book belonging to Nel and Herwarth Walden on 27th June 1918, according to Friedhelm Lach, Der Merzkünstler Kurt Schwitters (DuMont Schauberg: Cologne, 1971); p.29. He took part in the 64th Sturm exhibition of June 1918.

33 “Ich bin Maler, ich nagle meine Bilder”, Schwitters quoted in Raoul Hausmann, op.cit.; p.63.

34 See John Elderfield, Kurt Schwitters (Thames and Hudson: London, 1985); pp 36-41, and Werner Schmalenbach, Kurt Schwitters (Harry N. Abrams: New York, 1977); pp 44-47. Adriani claims that Höch, Hausmann and Schwitters met one another in late June 1919; in Gotz Adriani, op. cit.; p.20.

35 Dating suggested by Elderfield who also notes that Schwitters’ first assemblages were made between January and June 1919, in John Elderfield, Kurt Schwitters (Thames and Hudson: London, 1985); p.35.

36 On Hansi, see Annegreth Nill, “Rethinking Kurt Schwitters, Part One: An interpretation of “Hansi””, Arts Magazine volume 55, number 1 (January 1981); p.112; and John Elderfield, Kurt Schwitters (Thames and Hudson: London, 1985); p.72.

37 This is argued in Annegreth Nill, op. cit.; ibidem.

38 Raoul Hausmann, op. cit., ibidem.

39 “Für die innere Verwandtschaft zwischen Kurt und mir ist es bezeichnend, dass wir zur gleichen Zeit (Dezember 1920), ohne es zu wissen, beinahe die gleichen Sätze veröffenlichten, ich in Berlin, er in Hannover, in denen wir uns als die Verteidiger des Unsinns bekannten”. Raoul Hausmann, op. cit.; p.64.

40 Giroud and Wolf, op. cit.; p. 14.

41 Wieland Herzfelde, “Zur Einführung”, in Dada-Messe reported in John Heartfield, Schnitt entlang der Zeit (Verlag der Kunst: Dresden, 2002); p.41.

42 Walter Benjamin, op.cit.; p. 211.

43 “Die Kunst und die Zeit”, in Eje Högestätt and Paul-Armand Gette, Raoul Hausmann (Malmö Konsthall: Malmö, 1980); p.27.

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Static Films and Moving Pictures
Montage in Avant-Garde Photography and Film
University of Edinburgh
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Jennifer Valcke (Author), 2008, Static Films and Moving Pictures, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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