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Photomontage >

1 – Introduction

The task is no longer to represent the world but to rearrange it.1

Arthur C. Danto

The peculiar characteristics of photography and its approaches have opened up a new and immensely fantastic field for a creative human being: a new, magical territory, for the discovery of which freedom is the first prerequisite ...Whenever we want to force this "photomontage" to yield new forms, we must be prepared for a journey of discovery, we must start without any pre-conceptions; most of all, we must be open to the beauties of fortuity. Here more than anywhere else, these beauties, wandering and extravagant, obligingly enrich our fantasy.1

Hannah Höch

1 – Definitions

A photomontage is a collage largely made from photographs.

For the photomontage class, diptychs and triptychs (two or three photographs together), sequences, and grids, are included.

Some differentiate between montage and collage as follows:

• The items used in a collage have edges.

They're either cut or torn.

• The items used in a montage are edgeless.

The edges are smoothed, blended with their surroundings, by reducing their opacity.

"I've always made a distinction between collage and photomontage," he says. "Montage is about producing something seamless and legible, whereas collage is about interrupting the seam and making something illegible."

John Stezaker

2Differences with Conventional Photography

It's Not Reality

Photographers have faked photographs from the beginnings of the medium.

Today, even though everyone knows the power of Photoshop, photographs are still, at least initially, seen as representing reality.

Photomontages are often seen to subvert reality from the get go.

Different Creation Experience

Photographers can be divided on those who look for photographs—such as landscapes—and those who make photographs—such as still lifes.

Photomontage photography is more like the latter.

A landscape photographer finds a scene—which is the hard part.


Later—a little editing—it's done.

A photomontage photographer may have a longer relationship with his or her work.

He or she begins with a blank surface or screen.

Might Have Aura

If the photomontage photographer is actually cutting and pasting, the work carries the aura of being the only one.

In 1935, Walter Benjamin wrote an influential essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.

From Wikipedia:

In the discussion of the aura of authenticity and physical uniqueness, Benjamin said that "even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: Its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be"; and that the "sphere of authenticity is outside the technical [sphere]" of the reproduction of artworks.2 Therefore, the original work of art is an objet d'art independent of the copy; yet, by changing the cultural context of where the art happens to be, the mechanical copy diminishes the aesthetic value of the original work of art. In that way, the aura — the unique aesthetic authority of a work of art — is absent from the mechanically produced copy.3

Can Add Elements Easily

When Margaret Bourke-White (1, 2, 3) came across the scene below, she may have thought, "thank my lucky stars."

A photomontage photographer can add elements easily.


Can More Easily Add "isms"

A conventional photograph can be a poem.

A photomontage can more easily be more poem-like.

That's due to one's ability to add text, metaphor, symbolism, surrealism (juxtaposition), and the like.

Can More Easily Add Other Mediums

A photomontage photograph can more easily use other mediums with his or her work.

For example, Heather Oelklaus weaves several photographs together.



Abstraction may be easier with photomontage.

A photomontage can have an interplay between the figurative and the abstract.

Three Dimensions

A photomontage photographer can work in three dimensions more easily than a conventional photographer.

A Conventional Photographer – Ansel Adams

From Christies:

In 1940, Adams wrote an article for US Camera, in which he outlined various strategies for making photomurals, including technical and compositional recommendations. Emphasizing the decorative potential of mural prints and screens, Adams advised using only strongly graphic and abstract subject-matter, explaining that the challenge presented by folding screens was that they were 'not seen as a flat surface, but as a combination of surfaces, each set at a different angle to the others'. This created 'effects not only of altered perspective and scale, but on account of the reflective properties of the panels, of light intensity as well.'


Click Photograph to Enlarge

A Photomontage "Photographer" – Joseph Cornell

From Smithsonian American Art Museum:

His art has been described as romantic, poetic, lyrical and surrealistic. Self-taught but amazingly sophisticated, he created his first collages, box constructions and experimental films in the 1930s. By 1940, his boxes contained found materials artfully arranged, then collaged and painted to suggest poetic associations inspired by the arts, humanities and sciences.

He believed aesthetic theories were foreign to the origin of his art but said his works were based on everyday experiences, "the beauty of the commonplace." An insatiable collector, he acquired thousands of examples of printed and three-dimensional ephemera—searching the libraries, museums, theaters, book shops and antique fairs in New York and relying on his contacts across the United States and in Europe. With these objects, he created magical relationships by seamlessly combining disparate images.

Cornell was an imaginative and private man who, mingling fantasy and reality, produced works outstanding not only for their originality and craftsmanship but for their complexity and diversity.


3 – Multiple Exposure: Cameras

Multiple exposure is the blending of two or more photographs into a single photograph.


Using a film camera is not recommended, as the cost of the film and processing may be high.

If you have a 35mm film camera, it may be able to do multiple exposures.

Check the camera manual or search on Google.

If you don't have a 35mm film camera, check thrift stores.


A few digital cameras can do multiple exposures.

Look for Multiple Exposure and Image Overlay in your camera manual.

You may need to underexpose each photograph.

If so, set the exposure compensation to -1.0.

4 – Multiple Exposure: Phone Apps

Search for apps that do multiple exposures with your phone.

5 – Multiple Exposure: Post Production

The best collage maker tools in 2019 including Adobe Spark

Pic Collage Android, iOS, Windows

Using GIMP

Using Photoshop Elements

Using Lightroom

6 – Legalities

This writer is not a lawyer.

Please consult with your attorney about the matters below.


Artists have—copied/borrowed/paid homage to/stolen—the work of others—for a long time.

Photographers have done so, as well.

Appropriation is defined, by some, as when:

• Little is done to transform the work from its original state.

• The original is placed in a different context, such as from advertising to art.

• The original is used with a different intent, such as from entertainment to informative.

Two appropriation pioneers were:

1) Richard Prince used Marlboro cigarette ads.

From Re-Contextualizing Commercialism: Richard Prince's 'Cowboy Series':

Working in the tear sheets department at Time magazine in the 1970s, at the end of each day, having clipped all articles, Prince was left with nothing but adverts. The ubiquitous nature of these fawless [sic] images against the backdrop of race riots, assassinations and the Vietnam War fascinated and repulsed the artist. Through the zoomed viewfinder of his 35 mm camera, Prince became the director of the image by re-photographing, cropping and re-contextualizing advertisements to expose their artifice. Re-focusing his preoccupation with consumer-driven adverts for watches, pens, bags and clothes, the artist began photographing Marlboro's cowboy adverts in the 1980s.

2) Sherrie Levine rephotographed Walker Evan's photographs and other photographers.

From After Walker Evans: 4:

In 1981, Levine photographed reproductions of Depression-era photographs by Walker Evans, such as this famous portrait of Allie Mae Burroughs, the wife of an Alabama sharecropper. The series, entitled After Walker Evans, became a landmark of postmodernism, both praised and attacked as a feminist hijacking of patriarchal authority, a critique of the commodification of art, and an elegy on the death of modernism. Far from a high-concept cheap shot, Levine's works from this series tell the story of our perpetually dashed hopes to create meaning, the inability to recapture the past, and our own lost illusions.

Use Your Photographs

It's best to use your own photographs and those in the public domain.

Taking Your Own Photographs

In the United States, follow the guidelines in The Photographer's Right by Bert Krages, an attorney in California.

If you're using photographs taken in another country, research their laws.

Using Your Own Photograph

Don't use a photograph of a person or property commercially.

Don't use a photograph of a person or property in a defamatory way.

Check the legal links below when using photographs of trademarks, products, properties, and so forth.

Use of Photographs by Other Photographers

In the United States, upon its creation, a photograph is copyrighted.

A photographer may receive actual damages if his or her work is infringed.

They may also get statutory damages if the photograph is registered with the Library of Congress Copyright Office prior to the infringement.

If you use a photograph by someone else, get his or her permission.

Fair Use

Without permission, you may be able to use the photograph under the fair use doctrine.

Your usage may qualify if these condition are met:

...the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.

In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

...the nature of the copyrighted work; the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

17 USC Section 107


Street photography: A right or invasion? (2006):

Remarkably, this was the first case to directly challenge that right. Had it succeeded, "Subway Passenger, New York City," 1941, along with a vast number of other famous images taken on the sly, might no longer be able to be published or sold.

In his lawsuit, Nussenzweig argued that use of the photograph interfered with his constitutional right to practice his religion, which prohibits the use of graven images.

New York state right-to-privacy laws prohibit the unauthorized use of a person's likeness for commercial purposes, that is, for advertising or purposes of trade. But they do not apply if the likeness is considered art. So diCorcia's lawyer, Lawrence Barth, focused on the context in which the photograph appeared. "What was at issue in this case was a type of use that hadn't been tested against First Amendment principles before - exhibition in a gallery; sale of limited edition prints; and publication in an artist's monograph," he said in an e-mail message.

"We tried to sensitize the court to the broad sweep of important and now famous expression that would be chilled over the past century under the rule urged by Nussenzweig." Among others, he mentioned Alfred Eisenstaedt's famous image of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square on V-J Day in 1945, when Allied forces announced the surrender of Japan.

How Jeff Koons, 8 Puppies, and a Lawsuit Changed Artists' Right to Copy (2017)

Jeff Koons Is Found Guilty of Plagiarism in Paris and Ordered to Pay $168,000 to the Creator of an Ad He Appropriated (2018)

Why Supreme's (Mis)Appropriation of Barbara Kruger's Art Matters More Than Ever

Legal Information Links

Legalities Comprehensive articles about copyright, fair use, and using someone's likeness

Copyright Fair Use and Online Images Sara F. Hawkins, an attorney in Arizona

The 'Fair Use' Rule: When Use of Copyrighted Material Is Acceptable

7 – Sources of Photographs

Harry Roseman photographed Joseph Cornell's studio.

It's good to have lots of sources.



You can screen Google image search results by usage rights.

Go to Find free-to-use images.

From Google:

Before reusing content, make sure that its license is legitimate and check the exact terms of reuse. For example, the license might require that you give credit to the image creator when you use the image. Google can't tell if the license label is legitimate, so we don't know if the content is lawfully licensed.

Libraries & Museums


Art Institute of Chicago

Department of Agriculture

J. Paul Getty Museum

• Library of Congress:

Free to Use and Reuse Sets

Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art Select Show public domain images only

Paris Musées

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Click Open Access Artworks

• National Archives:

Catalog Check the license


NASA Images

National Gallery of Art

• New York Public Library:

Public Domain Collections: Free to Share & Reuse

Public Domain Picks

NYPL Digital Collections

Smithsonian Open Access

Welcome to Smithsonian Open Access, where you can download, share, and reuse millions of the Smithsonian’s images—right now, without asking. With new platforms and tools, you have easier access to nearly 3 million 2D and 3D digital items from our collections—with many more to come. This includes images and data from across the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, nine research centers, libraries, archives, and the National Zoo.

Clip Art, Etc.

Old Book Illustrations



Project Gutenberg

Free Stock Photography Websites

Search for stock photography free.

On these websites, be sure to check the license.

For example, Unsplash has this License information page.

The Stock Photography Look

Stock photography is where photographers sell photographs to many different customers.

Some ofhesehesephotographs often have ahave a staged look, people with absurd smiles, and extra-colorful lighting.

For example, Hide the Pain Harold, András Arató, is seen in many different ads, and has become a meme.

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons is a source for photographs by others.

Read the license for each photograph carefully.

Simo Räsänen's photograph below was a Picture of the Day on the website.

The summary of the photograph's license is below.


Stills from Films & Videos


Films in the public domain, and your own videos, are sources of photographs.

Go to List of films in the public domain in the United States.

VLC Media Player

VLC Media Player is a free media player.

Do the following.

1) Pause the video just before the image you want to capture.

2) Press the letter e on your keyboard to advance the video frame-by-frame.

3) At the top of your screen, go to Video > Take Snapshot.

The PNG file is saved to your Pictures folder.

vlcsnap is at the beginning of the file name.

Where Is the Pictures Folder on a Mac?

Go to Mac HD > Users > Your user name > Pictures.

Or, go to Finder > Home.

1 Arthur C. Danto, The Madonna of the Future, Essays in a Pluralistic Art World, (Oakland, CA, University of California Press, 2001), 4.

2 Hannah Höch, qtd. in Maud Lavin, Cut with the Kitchen Knife: The Weimar Photomontages of Hannah Höch (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1993), 220. This was originally published in "On Today's Photomontage," Stredisko 4, 1, trans. from the original German into Czech by František Kalivoda, and from Czech into English by Jitka Salaguarda.

3 Walter Benjamin (1968). Hannah Arendt (ed.). "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction", Illuminations. London: Fontana. pp. 214–18.

4 Hansen, Miriam Bratu (2008). "Benjamin's Aura", Critical Inquiry No. 34 (Winter 2008)