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What is Digital Collage?

January 19, 2018

Receiving the news that I was selected to intern at Black C Art Gallery was probably one of the most exciting things to ever happen to me. I was really looking forward to diving into Gainesville’s art scene and playing my part to help it flourish further. After starting my internship, I realized that the gallery’s owner and primary artist, Ani Collier, produces some of the most unique work that I have laid eyes on, particularly because, up until now, I had not been very familiar with her medium, digital collage. Over the past few months, I have learned more about the medium through my work at the gallery, and I have also learned that most people are not familiar with this form of art, either. After taking in the gallery surroundings, a visitor’s immediate question is how the pieces are made; so, today’s blog post will focus on exploring the question: “What exactly is digital collage?”.


The foremost definition for digital collage is like that of regular collage, with the only difference being that its creation is rooted in the use of technology. According to an article on Deviant Art, digital collage is referred to as, “a form of graphic art that uses virtual imagery and textures from different sources pieced and layered together (in a program such as Photoshop) into one final assembled image.” In her article, “What is a Digital Collage?,” Dima Abdul Kader makes this declaration, stating that: “[Digital collage] uses the same production technique used in making a conventional hand-made collage, which is creating a whole new artwork from an assemblage of existing artistic materials.” One important thing to note, which was also stressed in the Deviant Art article, is that the viewer must avoid associating digital collage with photo manipulation, as they are two very different mediums. Photo manipulation is, as is explained in its name, the process of altering the composition of a single image, whereas digital collage is the process of placing and layering multiple images on top of each other. Think of it as an onion where various layers are stacked above one another to make up the whole item – or in this case, a complete composition. 


It is no surprise that technology has practically taken over modern society, and is now an integral part of day-to-day life. In regards to the art world, as with any other field, there are two types of people: those who embrace technology’s role in the art world and those who reject it. Ani Collier is an example of an artist who chose not only to embrace it, but also to utilize it in creating her works of art. After retiring from her career as a performance artist – specifically as a professional ballet dancer – Collier transitioned into the visual arts by moving behind the lens. In doing so, she also came to explore the world of photography, digital art, and collage. Ani’s collages feature a myriad of subjects; however, her trademark pieces are cityscapes depicting New York City and Miami, which she frequents throughout the year. Collier captures a wide range of images during her travels, and then combines them together through layering and manipulation to create a single work of art in digital collage form.  


In his piece, "Art in Digital Times: From Technology to Instrument," Benjamin Weil addresses the fact that, thanks to technology, the art scene has shifted greatly. In the past, those who used technology within their work were considered a minority, because of how expensive and rare technological resources were; however, today, “digital technology has permeated the entire culture, is mass produced, and is consequently becoming readily accessible to everyone, including art.” Furthermore, in the article, "Digital Image—Digital Photography," Susan Kirchman shares a thoughtful perspective of the concept of digital collage. She states that the computer “functions as the perfect collage tool, ascribing a visual parity to images from disparate sources, putting them into visual context with each other.” That, in my opinion, is the quintessence of Collier’s digital collages; she gathers an assortment of images and brings them together in such a unified composition, that I sometimes find it hard to believe that they were ever separate images.


But, of course, collage art began years before the technological era had taken over. In an article published on the website AnOther, Harriet Baker digs into the origins of collage art, supporting that the medium began during the period of European Dadaism; “coined by Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, the term ‘collage’ points towards a medium simultaneously serious and tongue-in-cheek; a technique that is deeply referential of the political world in which the works were produced.” Digital or otherwise, collage art has always been a way in which individuals were able to present the world in a different light, one that could perhaps also be associated with surrealism; the artists’ own observations of the world around them is suddenly embedded into an accessible image for any viewer to see. Collier’s cityscapes brought a new side of New York to my eyes, and one that I had not seen before. Furthermore, the collages she makes of dancers further beautify their bodies – amplifying their movements and emotions with an artistic touch. 

 

A useful way of considering photography that is manipulated is using the theory of post-visualization. Jerry Uelsmann, an American photographer who began his work before digital photography and digital collage existed, wrote an essay on post-visualization in 1967 that was quite controversial at the time, but is highly regarded today. In the essay, he outlines a broad history of photography, including the theory of pre-visualization, which, as written by photographer Edward Weston, is the idea that, “the finished print is pre-visioned [by Weston] complete in every detail… before the shutter’s release automatically and finally fixes my conception, allowing no after manipulation.”  


In "Post-Visualization," Uelsmann presents the argument for an alternative perspective when approaching photography as a medium. He asserts that it is imperative for the photographer to be able to have the same interactive and experimental approach to their work, which is also available to artists of other mediums.  Namely, that it is important that, “The photographic educator should appeal to the students of serious photography to challenge continually both their medium and themselves. The visual vocabulary of the young serious photographer should allow for a technical and imaginative freedom that permits him to encounter our complex transitional world in a multitude of ways… let him feel free, at any time during the entire photographic process, to post-visualize.” The practice of post-visualization allows the artist to create a photographic composition that represents how the artist envisions the world (whether real or not), without being limited to what he first captured behind the lens of the camera. As for whether pre- or post- visualization is more dominant or important in the field, Uelsmann declares that the medium of photography has simply evolved over the years, just like any other medium. Certainly, he stated that it is not that one is better than the other, for they both represent approaches that are key to the progression and advancement of the medium. 


In conclusion, digital collage art enables the artist and the viewer to not necessarily escape reality, but to shape their own views of it (and create their own interpretations), so that they may share their unique perspective of the world with others. Digital collage in particular is grounded in harmonious layering, a process which aids in producing a cohesive composition through the combination of multiple unique images. If you’re in North Central Florida, and if you would like to experience firsthand the way that technology has influenced the arts, stop by the gallery to get a close-up look at Collier’s work. 

 

We hope you do, and until next time,

Maria Kuran
2017-18 Intern at Black C Art Gallery 

Student at the University of Florida College of the Arts

 

 

 

Sources: 

 

Abdul Kader, Dima. "What is a Digital Collage?." EMERGEAST. https://emergeast.com/2649-        2/ 

 

Baker, Harriet. “Top 10 Collage Artists: Hannah Höch to Man Ray”. AnOther.
      http://www.anothermag.com/art-photography/3318/top-10-collage-artists-hannah-hoch-          to-man-ray 

 

"Digital Collage." Deviant Art (August 3, 2011).

      https://alteredmixedcollages.deviantart.com/journal/Digital-Collage-249322395

 

Kirchman, Susan. "Digital Image: Digital Photography." Art Show Catalog 3 (1990). JSTOR.
      http://www.jstor.org/stable/1557891?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents 

 

Uelsmann, Jerry N. "Post-Visualization." Jerry Uelsmann (1967).

      http://www.uelsmann.net/img/writing/post-visualization.pdf

 

Weil, Benjamin. "Art in Digital Times: From Technology to Instrument." Tenth Anniversary New           York Digital Salon 35, no. 5 (2002). JSTOR.
      http://www.jstor.org/stable/1577258?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

 

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