At first glance, one might never suspect that David Hockney, a vocal critic of photography’s static nature, would go on to reimagine its potential so significantly. Yet, Hockney’s journey, rooted in scepticism, ultimately transformed into a symphony of innovation. From revitalising Cubism in photography to exploring the world through the prism of Polaroids, Hockney has crafted an artistic language that transcends traditional confines. Whether it's capturing the quietude of a nearly vacant Metropolitan Opera House or infusing scenes with personal memories, his photo collages become conversations, speaking of intimate interior, vast landscapes, and cultural nuances.
“I mean, photography is all right if you don't mind looking at the world from the point of view of a paralyzed Cyclops–for a split second. But that’s not what it’s like to live in the world.” - David Hockney
David Hockney was initially hesitant about the limitations of photography, expressing reservations about its static and singular perspective. However, his appreciation for the medium dramatically blossomed after curator Alain Sayag convinced him to present his work in Paris.
Hockney's work in photography was deeply influenced by the principles of Cubism. Rather than presenting a singular viewpoint, he embraced Cubism's multi-faceted approach, breaking down scenes into fragmented parts and then reassembling them, creating a dynamic interplay between different perspectives in a single photographic collage. This approach showcased how the avant-garde art movement could be reimagined and revitalised through modern photographic techniques.
Hockney's approach evolved to incorporate a unique method of showcasing multiple perspectives in a singular piece through his innovative Polaroid compositions. These weren't just standalone artworks; they also served as a strategic tool. Beyond his collage creations, Hockney utilised these multifaceted images as foundational blueprints, guiding the structure and layout of his subsequent paintings.
Throughout the series, Hockney employs muted tones, predominantly in greys and blues, imbuing his works with a sentimental quality that deepens their context. Additionally, his innovative use of visual space speaks volumes. Rather than overwhelming the canvas with imagery, he dedicates ample space to solid colours, underscoring their essential role in the narrative. In his collage of Anne And David, Hockney matches the energy of the winter season in his use of colour as he thoughtfully aligned photographs down the centre, creating balance rather than distraction. Instead of overshadowing, the colours and arrangement harmoniously amplify the piece's mood and intention. It's tempting to consider his works a play of imagery, but the brilliance lies in Hockney’s ability to create depth and complexity through command of simple techniques.
Hockney's travels, notably in places like Japan, deeply influenced his artistic perspectives, infusing his photo collages with layers of cultural and geographical essence. In Walking In The Zen Garden At The Ryoanji Temple, we see the subtle fragmentation of the renowned Japanese garden, placed against the jarring red and black socks, captures a blend of traditional serenity and contemporary quirks. Similarly, his American road trips, encompassing views like the Grand Canyon, highlight his ability to fuse panoramic grandeur with intimate detail.
“The camera can’t see space. It sees surfaces. People see space, which is much more interesting.” David Hockney
Traditional photography, for all its merits, has a constrained viewpoint — it captures a moment in time from a singular vantage point. This rigidity often doesn’t mirror the way human eyes perceive the world. This multifaceted viewpoint, which is both fluid and dynamic, was what Hockney aimed to replicate in his joiners. Essentially, a joiner is a collection of overlaid photos that come together to form a larger composition. However, what is significant about Hockney’s joiners is his ability to create movement with it.
We're met with a still image of a woman lying in her bed in Nude, 17th June . However, through Hockney's application of joiners, there's an illusion of motion within this very stillness. The collage illustrates not only the dynamic interplay between viewer and artwork but also captures the subject's inherent movement.
Hockney's joiners were actually a happy accident. In the 1960s, while working on a depiction of a room in Los Angeles, he ended up merging Polaroids. This unintended collage surprisingly conveyed a sense of being able to move through the room. This accidental assembly sparked Hockney's interest, leading him to momentarily shift from painting to photography.
David Hockney's photo collages are deeply personal, visual journals of his life's intimate moments and relationships. Central among the recurring subjects is Hockney's mother, a significant figure not only in these collages but across his entire oeuvre. By consistently featuring familiar faces, especially ones like Billy Wilder, Hockney emphasises the importance of personal encounters in his art.
If you look carefully, you’ll notice a pair of feet seen throughout this collection. They’re almost always centred in the middle of the work, towards the bottom of the collage. While you can clearly see pairs of shoes in Graffiti Palace, The Brooklyn Bridge, Gregory Watching The Snow Fall shows Hockney’s bare feet. This serves a dual purpose: it signifies the Japanese cultural practice of not wearing shoes indoors, honouring the Genkan, and it might also denote this piece as the most personal in the series, given its intimate bedroom setting.
In this series, the settings alone tell their own story. By juxtaposing interiors with exteriors, Hockney explores the contrast between personal, enclosed moments and the endless possibilities of the external world. This is particularly evident in The Metropolitan Opera House. Despite being set in a location associated with prestige and crowded events, the collage shows an almost empty, quiet space. The emphasis here might be on the dichotomy between the expected busyness of certain spaces and the solitude they can sometimes harbour, highlighting the unpredictable nature of environments and our relationship with them.
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