#CIHA202400866Surrealist Photomontage and Mass Media Materiality

B. Penser la Matière 2
Photomechanical Prints and the Material Agency of Images
S. Laxton 1.
1University Of California Riverside - California (États-Unis)

Adresse email : slaxton@ucr.edu (S.Laxton)


Sujet en anglais / Topic in english

Sujet de la session en français / Topic in french

Texte de la proposition de communication en français ou en anglais

Surrealist Photomontage and Mass Media Materiality

Susan Laxton

Associate Professor, University of California, Riverside

Keywords: Surrealism, photomontage, illustrated press, photomechanical reproduction, mass media, factography, communism

While French surrealism staked its ambitions on (to paraphrase Marx and Rimbaud) changing life and transforming the world, its social impact has typically been confined to the literary and visual arts. Yet there was a period in the early 1930s when the surrealists gathered around André Breton sought more direct revolutionary impact, popular and material, through collaboration with the Communist party of France (PCF). The surrealists’ anti-colonial exhibition, mounted in protest against L’exposition coloniale internationale de Paris (1931) is a well-documented instance of such collaboration, but less known are a set of 34 unique cut-and-paste photomontages made by André Breton, Paul Eluard and Suzanne Muzard between 1931-33, images that specifically attack French colonialism and its helpmates, the clergy. Almost certainly intended for magazine publication (an ambition only partly realized), these composite images were constructed from fragments sliced from the contemporary picture press, whose saturation of the visual field had been newly enabled by the wide use of rotogravure printing, a process that afforded improved photographic reproductions that could be freely arranged in dynamic narrative layouts, all on mass scale. Unlike the photojournalism from which they drew their materials, these surrealist détournements of the illustrated news freely mixed scale and temporality, exposing the illusion of immanence constructed by photojournalism’s layout designs, reinscribing those stories with ambiguity and doubt, and revealing the editorial strategies at work to direct public discourse. At the same time, their exposé emphasized the material nature of the photographic document, treating it as a paper representation that could be sliced open and freely manipulated –conceptually as well as physically–to generate new meanings, as opposed to an inviolate trace of the real and, as photojournalism would have it, the mirror of historical fact. Photomontage in this instance, fashioned just before the soviet turn to socialist realism, reflects the factographic insistence on technique as an indispensable avatar of political “tendency” that was central to communist ideology in the late 1920s and early 30s, a stance insisting that the starting point for all artistic work is matter, not signs. It follows, then, that as examples of willful reconstruction, these surrealist photomontages were conceived as instruments for a new historical materialist form of representation deployed to re-educate the modern viewer toward leftist visual literacy–a fresh pathway to critical reading, realization, and revolution.


CV de 500 signes incluant les informations suivantes: Prénom, nom, titre, fonction, institution

Susan Laxton is Associate Professor of Art History at University of California, Riverside, and author of Surrealism at Play (Duke, 2019). Her essays on avant-garde photography, play, and indeterminacy in the visual arts can be found in the journals October, Critical Inquiry, Transbordeur, PhotoResearcher, and History of Photography, and in a number of anthologies and catalogs, most recently, The Routledge Companion to Surrealism and Ed Ruscha’s Streets of Los Angeles. She is currently at work on a book on surrealist photomontage.

Résumé / Abstract

"For a short period in the early 1930s, French surrealism sought direct revolutionary impact through collaboration with the Communist Party of France (PCF). During this time, André Breton, Paul Eluard and Suzanne Muzard produced a set of 34 cut-and-paste photomontages constructed from the rotogravure illustrated press. Almost certainly intended for magazine publication, these composite images rendered the transparent photograph material and, conceived as instruments for a new historical materialist form of representation, were meant to reconcile psychoanalysis and Marxism to re-educate the modern viewer toward leftist visual literacy, forging a fresh pathway to critical reading, realization, and revolution."