David Hockney's Photocollage Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

David Hockney's Photocollage

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Between the years of 1982 and 1987, David Hockney experimented heavily with photocollage, creating works he calls joiners. A joiner consists of a series of photographs taken from different viewpoints, arranged (overlapping) to form a single piece. By taking the pictures from carefully selected viewpoints, and arranging them in the right way, Hockney is able to change the apparent shape of space and introduce the element of time into the work.

For instance, using this technique, you can make a circular wall seem flat. Imagine walking around the wall, taking lots of photos at a fixed distance with the camera pointing straight towards the wall. If you just look at the middle of each photo, it will appear as though you are looking straight on at a flat section of wall. Since every photo looks like this, if you cut them up and lay them next to one another so that they join up, it will still look like a flat section of wall, even though the detail of the curvature is still present. In fact, part of Hockney's not entirely self-consistent philosophy behind these joiners forced him not to cut up the photos.

To really appreciate these photocollages you need to see the real thing, as they are very large and part of their impact comes about from the sense of space and immersion.


The earlier works of this five-year period are experimental; Hockney is exploring the medium and perfecting his technical ability. Good examples of this period would include The Desk (1984), Walking in the Zen Garden at the Ryoanji Temple Kyoto (1983), and Paint Trolley (1985).

In his very earliest works, he used a Polaroid camera1. However, as the complexity of the joiners increased, he began using a Pentax 110, which allowed him to hugely increase the complexity of the pieces. His longest Polaroid joiner took five hours to complete; his longest Pentax joiner, Pearblossom Highway (1986), took eight days of photography alone.

His later works demonstrate his mastery of the medium and he begins to use the technique for artistic effect. This can most notably be seen in Pearblossom Highway (1986); Place Furstenberg, Paris (1985); and Interior, Pembroke Studios (1986), which was his last large scale joiner.

Relation to Cubism

Hockney's works have strong links with Cubism in that his motivation for producing them was to introduce three artistic elements which a single photograph cannot have: layered time, space, and narrative. The first two of these are central Cubist themes. Hockney points out that a single photo expresses a single instant, and so cannot represent time or narrative2:

Cubism was total vision: it was about two eyes and the way we see things. Photography had the flaw of being one-eyed... My joke was that all ordinary photographs are taken by a one-eyed frozen man!

The theme of narrative is present from his earliest works. For instance, in My House, Montcalm Avenue (1982), the series of photographs are a journey through his house. In Fredda Bringing Ann and Me a Cup of Tea (1983), the photocollage shows Fredda at all stages of her journey from the house, down the steps to the garden; a simple narrative.

As well as narrative, there is layered time; this is similar to narrative but a bit subtler. A good example of layered time is in Steve Cohen, Ian, Gary, Lindsay, Doug, Anthony, Ken (1982), which depicts a group of friends chatting. Since all the friends are continually moving and talking, and there is a space of time between each photo, the whole conversation is present in the joiner. However, it is presented at once rather than sequentially (as in a film). This gives rise to a very interesting effect.

Finally, there is the spatial aspect to Hockney's joiners, which ties in to Hockney's feelings about the objectivity of the image. He firmly believed that there was no such thing as objective vision. Too much subjectivity is impressed upon any image by the viewer. He explores this theme in Pearblossom Highway (1986), in which the left side of the picture consists of scenic elements, and the right side consists of road elements, corresponding to the fact that the passenger seat is on the left (the passenger enjoys the view) and the driving seat is on the right (the driver looks at signs, etc...) Another example of the subjectivity is his use of reverse perspective. This can be seen in Chair, Jardin de Luxembourg, Paris (1985), which consists of a chair in reverse perspective. Reverse perspective means that things get smaller as they get closer. One of the interesting aspects of reverse perspective is that it enables you to see three sides of a cube, which is very useful to Hockney. The use of reverse perspective is, in fact, very old (which may be surprising). Many pre-Renaissance and Japanese paintings have reverse perspective, as it allows the viewer to see more of a scene.

Further Reading

If you are interested in reading more about Hockney's photocollage, the following books are highly recommended:

  • Hockney on Photography: Conversations with Paul Joyce by Paul Joyce (Jonathan Cape, 1988); which is out of print, and may be difficult to find; and

  • David Hockney, You Make the Picture: Paintings and Prints 1982-1995 by Paul Melia (Manchester City Art Galleries, 1997).

The first of these is particularly good, as it includes prints of all of the works mentioned and many more besides. For further reading about Cubism, the following is recommended, even though it may be a bit out of date now:

  • Cubism by John Golding (Faber and Faber Ltd, 1959).

1For instance, My House, Montcalm Avenue (1982) and Steve Cohen, Ian, Gary, Lindsay, Doug, Anthony, Ken (1982).2This point is debatable, as can be appreciated by looking at the photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson.

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