Sixty years before the embrace of collage techniques by the avant-garde artists of the early twentieth century, aristocratic Victorian women were already experimenting with photocollage. The compositions they made with photographs and watercolors are whimsical and fantastical, combining human heads and animal bodies, placing people into imaginary landscapes, and making faces into common household objects. Such images, on view in Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage, reveal the educated minds as well as the accomplished hands of their makers. With sharp wit and dramatic shifts of scale akin to those Alice experienced in Wonderland, these images stand the rather serious conventions of early photography on their heads.
Professor Ann Bermingham investigates the role of the scrapbook, and the personality of its female Victorian creator. Photocollages, she suggests, are an expression of desire for a world beyond the serious, highly structured Victorian reality represented in and by the photograph. The whimsy, the use of paintings and of the handmade, the creation of surreal images that characterize the scrapbook, all contribute to a representation of something, a metaphor or an idea, that exists beyond the strictures of the physical world.
Ann Bermingham, professor, Department of the History of Art and Architecture, University of California, Santa Barbara; introduced by Malcolm Daniel, Curator in Charge, Department of Photographs, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Learn more about the exhibition Playing with Pictures:
Learn about collage in the twentieth century on the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History: