Following the presentations of Christian Boltanski, Alfredo Jaar and David Claerbout, the Nederlands Fotomuseum will again open the new year with work by an internationally renowned artist: John Stezaker this time. Ten years ago Stezaker made his breakthrough in the international art world with intriguing photocollages. He snips into and cuts up old publicity photos of actors from the thirties, forties and fifties – the period of florescence of the Hollywood film. He mounts sections of portraits of different actors or film-set photos along very precise lines to form a new image. In doing so, he manages to create a surreal object that is just as surprising as it is wonderful, one that induces stimulating questions about how we experience and understand a photo as a picture. At the same time, he makes the viewer think about the way in which these photo-portraits communicate notions of personality, glamour and fame.
Stezaker is a master in assembling two or three different pictures in order to produce one new – often surrealistic – image. He does this in various ways. In his series entitled He, two totally different men jointly form one face. In Marriages, Stezaker combines ‘halved’ faces of a man and a woman into one picture. Stezaker explicitly calls his work ‘collages’ rather than ‘photo-montages’ because he does not finish the combinations flawlessly, and always leaves his interventions visible. To him, the work is all about the schism between the two parts, which brings content-related tension. Although the compiled portrait produces an estranged image, essential parts of the faces, such as eyebrows, lips and cheekbones appear to converge in a natural way. This precision ensures that the composed portrait becomes a personal image that is just as credible as it is uncomfortable.
Stezaker finds his photos at flea markets, in antiquarian bookshops and now also via internet. Many of the photo-portraits with which he works are so-called ‘virgins’: actors and actresses who have been promoted but eventually never managed to appear in a film. He is touched by the tragedy of pictures that no longer have a function and are doomed to vanish. From his enormous archives of old film pictures he creates new archives in which the pictures are preserved, albeit fragmented.
In addition to publicity photos, Stezaker also uses picture postcards and photos from old books as raw material. He mounts landscapes and picture postcards on top of some portraits and double portraits. The results may be a shock to some – there is always an element of violence inflicted upon the faces of those depicted. But his way of working always brings a new, extraordinary form of beauty.
John Stezaker (1949, Worcester, UK) has been making collages for more than forty years, but it is only recently that he has presented them to the general pubic. This occurred partly as a result of the fact that gallery owner and collector Charles Saatchi began to collect his work in the early 2000s. He then quickly broke through into the international art world. Stezaker was given a large retrospective exhibition in the Whitechapel Gallery in London in 2011, and won the prestigious Deutsche Börse Photography Prize in 2012. He represented Great Britain at the Sydney Biennial in 2014. In his function as a teacher of ‘Critical and Historical Studies’, Stezaker has been affiliated for some time with the Royal College of Art in London, where he still lives and works. He himself was educated at the Slade School of Art from which he graduated in 1973, having specialized in film.