'A Revolution in Seeing.' (Photocollages of David Hockney)

Article excerpt

'A revolution in seeing' Up to February 1982 David Hockney scorned the camera as nothing more than a recording device. Photographs did not hold his attention. "You'd never look at a photo for more than thirty seconds," he said, "unless there were a thousand faces and you were looking for your mother."

Though he took "holiday snaps" beginning in 1963 and made photographs as preliminary studies for his paintings from 1968 on, he considered the camera inferior to life drawing as a means of rendering "weight and volume". In his paintings, especially through 1972, he exploited the photograph's intensification of effects of light and the flat, dazzling colour of commercial processing but found photography false to perception and to the actual experience of time and space.

"Photography is all right," he commented, "if you don't mind looking at the world from the point of view of a paralysed cyclops--for a split second."

But when a visiting curator left some packages of Polaroid film in Hockney's newly decorated house in the Hollywood Hills, he decided to try to represent its three spatial areas. What began on 26 February 1982, with a thirty-print compsoite, grew into over-life-size, full-length Polaroid portraits of his friends, then into vast photocollages of famous American scenery and complex portrait narratives made from 35 mm prints, and climaxed five years later in a panoramic Western landscape composed of more than 600 prints. Between March and May 1982 Hockney made more than 140 Polaroid collages. Then, from September 1982 to August 1986, he produced 231 photocollages with Pentax 110 single-lens reflex and 35 mm Nikon cameras. He has made no large-scale photocollages since.

In their sheer number and monumental elaboration Hockney's photocollages are a major body of work within his career. Of a piece with his paintings, drawings and prints, his camera art is sunny in spirit, personal, even diaristic, in subject matter, and experimental and spontaneous in technique.

In his photocollages, as in his other work, Hockney explores lines and edges; he called his first exhibition of photocollages Drawing with the Camera. He also employs photography as a reproductive tool, like etching, lithography, or most recently the office photocopier, but exploits its special features.

His photocollages are accessible in content and means. Indeed Hockney welcomes the recent imitations of them in American magazine advertisements and French tourist promotions. …