Exercise 4.6 Photomontage in Photoshop – background tests and research

2nd May 2020

For this exercise we are able to use images that we have already taken to create our own photomontages in Photoshop.

Where does one start when you have such a mixture of photographs in your catalogue? Which theme? Do you use photographs that have a dynamic or eye-catching image? An image that you are attached to? Conceptual or design?

I had decided on the conceptual approach and after researching Heartfield and Höch I thought a conceptual piece of work about the Coronavirus would be a good place to start for the first work and then a self-portrait connected with my nightmares for the second. By choosing two I could produce an image on a new subject as well as continuing one of my themes on self-portraiture and CPTSD.

The contact sheets for this exercise can be found here.

Coronavirus / Covid-19

You Are The Weakest Link, Goodbye

Because I see the world of politics as a game, the politicians the players and the public the audience, I thought I would work with a title related to games. I decided a TV game show would be good as politicians are in the lime light just like the televisions shows are. From here I decided not to choose a game title but a catchphrase.

I wasn’t sure which game catchphrase to use for the title for the first image. I decided to choose “You Are The Weakest Link” from the TV game show of the same name, The Weakest Link, rather than Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’s, “I’d like to phone a friend.”

It was quite a tough choice so I had to really think about the context in which these catchphrases were spoken. I decided on my choice, “You are the weakest link, Goodbye” for numerous reasons:

  • It is demeaning and offending
  • It is a dismissive phrase
  • The host – Anne Robinson – is domineering and intimidating and says the line, ‘You are the weakest link, goodbye’, dismissively.
  • Everybody has to vote for who they think is the weakest link and so everyone is trying to out play the other
  • The walk of shame
  • One wrong answer breaks the chain
  • Elimination of players
  • Strongest link
  • Weakest link
  • Head to head
  • Sudden death

With all of these thoughts racing through my mind connected with politics, the public and the coronavirus, I thought that this was definitely the title to choose.

My final image can be seen below.

You Are The Weakest Link, Goodbye

The content reads as follows.

The title, ‘You Are The Weakest link, Goodbye ‘- instead of the walk of shame for the weakest links who are our politicians they are being burned alive as a form of shame punishment. I particularly like how Boris Johnson is shouting out. I did not want them all shouting as I thought it would be a little cliche, so I chose specific facial expressions depending on what was happening around the individual politicians heads:

  • Boris Johnson – Shouting, screaming out
  • Donald Trump – Puzzlement, asking a question because he has the claw around his neck
  • Giuseppe Conte – Look of realisation as he comes to terms with the absurd reality that so many are dead because of (supposedly snakes and bats).

(1) Xi Jinping is being beheaded in the background. Decapitation in traditional China was seen as a disrespectful form of death. This is because our bodies are gifts from our parents and our ancestors and because they are being returned to the earth dismembered this is offensive and upsetting to our families those both alive and dead. Therefore Xi Jinping has been given a dishonourable death because he lied at the beginning of the virus’s outbreak about the happenings in Wuhan and the figures connected with the infected, deaths and the spread of the virus. He has caused much suffering because of his lies and his delays in telling the rest of the world about the truth of what was happening.

(2) Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and Giuseppe Conte, as well as bats and snakes are all being burned alive along with bodies in the castle to the right of them. The bats and snakes represent the supposed unknown beginnings of the virus in Wuhan.

I therefore searched for a suitable burning of bodies illustration for my background and found an artwork from Germany, 1955 that showed some witches being burned at the stake, ‘Witch burning in Derenburg, Germany, 1555’ which can be seen below. The background would have the heads of the politicians within it along with the addition of surgical masks, a plague mask, bats and snakes all symbolising things to do with Covid-19.

Witch burning in Derenburg, Germany, 1555
image from Gizmodo io9.gizmodo.com

The burning of the politicians is connected with the medieval Black Death which in the 14th Century is known to be one of the deadliest plagues. The connection I am making here is the way that the Cover-19 has spread so fast and that it also affects the lungs and breathing like the pneumonic plague. They would burn the bodies of minorities such as people they thought were witches or the Jewish, all of which they thought had caused the plague. Therefore my image sees the politicians burning as they are a minority that the general public think didn’t act quicker enough so caused the virus to spread and kill more people than necessary. There is also the other conspiracy theory that the virus is indeed man made and has been allowed to spread to cut down on the growing population.

Scientists at Public Health England in Porton Down, argue that for the Black Death to have spread so quickly and killed so many victims with such devastating speed, it would have to have been airborne. Therefore, rather than bubonic plague which is transmitted to humans through bites from infected rat fleas (and then can be transmitted between humans, according to some research), they concluded that this must have been a pneumonic plague that made its way into the lungs of the infected and spread through coughs and sneezes.

History history.com

The Black Death was also when quarantine was invented.

As for how to stop the disease, people still had no scientific understanding of contagion, says Mockaitis, but they knew that it had something to do with proximity. That’s why forward-thinking officials in Venetian-controlled port city of Ragusa decided to keep newly arrived sailors in isolation until they could prove they weren’t sick. 

At first, sailors were held on their ships for 30 days, which became known in Venetian law as a trentino. As time went on, the Venetians increased the forced isolation to 40 days or a quarantino, the origin of the word quarantine and the start of its practice in the Western world.

History history.com

Another link that I made was Bill Gates quote, “now people realize, OK, there really is a meaningful probability every 20 years or so with lots of world travel that one of these [viruses] will come along.” from the Financial Times. This is the same amount of years that the Black Death kept resurfacing in London, roughly every twenty years from 1348 to 1665, forty outbreaks in 400 years, History history.com

By the early 1500s, England imposed the first laws to separate and isolate the sick. Homes stricken by plague were marked with a bale of hay strung to a pole outside. If you had infected family members, you had to carry a white pole when you went out in public. Cats and dogs were believed to carry the disease, so there was a wholesale massacre of hundreds of thousands of animals. 

The Great Plague of 1665 was the last and one of the worst of the centuries-long outbreaks, killing 100,000 Londoners in just seven months. All public entertainment was banned and victims were forcibly shut into their homes to prevent the spread of the disease. Red crosses were painted on their doors along with a plea for forgiveness: “Lord have mercy upon us.”

As cruel as it was to shut up the sick in their homes and bury the dead in mass graves, it may have been the only way to bring the last great plague outbreak to an end.

History history.com

Due to the fact that the virus supposedly started in Wuhan’s animal market, I edited a photograph which can be seen below by taking out the Wuhan sign and placing it at the left side of my image behind the burning politicians.

The last addition to my photomontage were the masks. Here I used the historical plague Drs mask and hat and the modern day NHS mask. Both the doctors are seen stoking the fire in which the politicians are burning.

5th May 2020

Double or Drop

I remember one particular children’s television series as if it was yesterday – Crackerjack. I loved this show. It ran from 1955 to 1984 and ‘… one of the games was a quiz called “Double or Drop”, where each of three contestants was given a prize to hold for each question answered correctly, but given a cabbage if they were incorrect. They were out of the game if they dropped any of the items awarded or received a third cabbage.’ Wikipedia en.wikipedia.org

For this photomontage I decided to include the politicians, a Dalek and objects that were being bulk purchased in the frenzy buying. To add a little drama the Dalek is present as if people have deserted the shop because it will exterminate all the other customers to get to the items first. To complicate matters the Dalek has to play the Double or Drop game and that is why it is balancing objects which include the shows iconic cabbage item.

Double or Drop

I took the background image myself as I purposefully went out before lockdown to shoot some images of the fruit and vegetable and meat sections in the local Morrisons. The image should speak for itself although I was hoping the coconuts would still be on the shelves so that I could have given the idea of the coconut shy and people throwing balls at the politicians. however the idea of the politicians heads being melons works just as well, I mean after all politicians are ‘melon heads’, aren’t they?

Self portrait

The Nightmare Trap

I made this image a little bit more complicated by using layers as well as whole images and parts of images. I also used a pencil cross-app self portrait to set the scene of the nightmare as well as other portraits of myself and an ex, a cross-app scan of me shouting and cut out skull images.

The Nightmare Trap

The contact sheet showing the full photographs which were cut to form this image can be seen here.

This image went through many different processes unlike the first two photomontages which were simple cut and composition works.

I began with a background image that I took at the Tate Britain at Rachel Whitereads exhibition which ran from 2017 – 2018. Whiteread is one of my favourite sculptors. The reason I chose this image for the base of my nightmare is that it reminded me of stair illusions, examples which can be seen below. These illusions are a nightmare that you cannot escape, you are caught, trapped, forever walking around in your own maze of stairs.

Rachel Whiteread, Untitled (Stairs) 2001
image taken from Tate Britain website

Once the background had been set I added a whole layer over the top of it of me crying. I had been crying because my mum had died during the week and I wanted to capture some grief images. Once positioned I began to sort through my photographs for self portraits that had a nightmarish feel to them, an animal skull, a photograph of a Lino print that I had completed with the word Guilty on it and I re-used my shouting mouth image. To set the scene and give the feel of a nightmare I took the photograph of me looking upwards, protecting myself with my hands and arms as well as it showing me screaming and performed some cross-app work on it until I gained lines only.

Once all of the images and image parts had been collected I began to piece the composition together. It took many trials of sizes and positions as well as the opacity each part would have in the image to find satisfactory parts that would come together well as a whole. Finally after three days of manipulation and trials I had completed the composition.

I used words which are commonly connected with domestic abuse. I decided on Bully, Liar and Manipulator characteristics we all know well.

From here I added the word Survivor. I still see myself as a victim as I am still early on in my recovery but my fellow domestic violence acquaintances, support worker and counsellor keep reminding me that I am a survivor and not a victim. I blurred the red word as the line between victim and survivor to me is blurred.

Not happy with the final image because the colour was very bland for a nightmare representation, I began to convert the image into black and white and then tried some other colour properties.

I decided the black and white image was not effective enough, the harshness and peculiarity of a nightmare was just not there.

After experimenting further I decided to haphazardly place a little colour into the black and white image.

Why haphazardly? In my nightmare I have no control and I wanted to try and put a little disorderly colour within the image to symbolise the lack of control.

This has been quite an easy exercise for me as I am use to working this way. I still have areas in which I have to practice, for instance colouring specific layers or pieces within the composition if they disappear into the image and get lost amongst the other information.

However, this will come with time as I am learning, you cannot learn every technique in one go.

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