What is a photograph? Though the photographic image has become a ubiquitous part of everyday life, its exact status or nature can be hard to define. Is it an image or an object? Document of truth or slice of subjectivity? Does it belong to the present or past? Acclaimed conceptual artist John Stezaker uses vintage photographs, old film stills, postcards and book illustrations as ‘readymades’; combining and destabilising their original content to address some of these questions, and comment upon the photograph’s role as cultural artefact.
An exhibition of his work opening at the Whitworth presents two important collage series and a number of other pieces by Stezaker, in which we see these complex issues come alive in wry and poignant clarity. In Untitled (Film Portrait Collages), we find the faces of B-movie actors spliced together in an uncanny play on the art historical conventions of portraiture, and the fluid boundaries of gender and identity. While in Masks, disconcerting juxtapositions of glamorous sitters overlaid with scenic postcards featuring waterfalls, bridges and seascapes highlight Stezaker’s interest in Surrealism.
Stezaker’s work had a major impact on the use of collage in contemporary art and this new presentation at the Whitworth should provide a fascinating insight into the slippery nature of our relationship with photography and human identity.