Exploring Photomontage as War Propaganda

Topics: World War II, Dada, Nuclear weapon Pages: 8 (2523 words) Published: November 9, 2010
‘Exploring Photomontage as War Propaganda’

Artists have used many mediums to create propaganda for various reasons and causes. Propaganda is thought to have originated in 1622 with the spread of Christian beliefs to non-Catholic countries by Pope Gregory XV and the Congregation de Propaganda Fide (Congregation for the Probation of Faith). The term propaganda is very broad, in it’s simplest sense it is described as information or ideas that are deliberately spread, to influence an audience.

This essay explores the technique of photomontage and combines this with painting as a powerful tool for propaganda. The artists and images this paper refers to are artists John Heartfield and his 1963 Spanish War montage, Liberty herself fights in their ranks and Peter Kennard’s 1984 The Haywain with Cruise Missiles. Both artists use historical, well known paintings and combine them with contemporary news photographs, to create different sorts of propaganda.

In cultural terms propaganda involves presenting ideas to a audience in aid of changing peoples attitudes towards a certain cause. It must heighten the awareness of issues, attract new people and convince the opposition to change their mind. According to Lasswell, 1927 p629, ‘Propagandas may be revolutionary or counter revolutionary, reformist or counter-reformist‘. He believes that no form of propaganda can be ‘pigeon-holed’ in to a certain category, that this idea of doing this was convenient and not to ‘satisfy yearnings for the immortal and the immutable’. This shows the broad scope in which the term propaganda lays, and that anything that contains a message against, or for, a cause is classified by this term.

The most common use, and the subject this paper will study, is political propaganda. It may be used by political parties to heighten the awareness of there cause or by there opposition, to get people to change there views. War propaganda can be quite powerful, its aim is to de-humanize and cause public outrage towards the enemy.

Photomontage was first used as propaganda by the Berlin Dadaists who took ready made images from magazines and newspapers to create images that dealt with their political dissatisfaction against the Weimar Republic before WW2. Many artists before had used art to create comment on the war but Dada was the first anti-war movement. By using photomontage this allowed it user to take fragments from different events and combine them, creating a new set of view points. Th Heartfield’s comment on the Dada movement, opposing it to Expressionism as quoted by Evans, 1986, p13

‘The greatest significance of Dadaism was that it immunized us against
relapsing into Expressionism, which had lost its original importance as a result of the new political situation.’

Many of the Dada montages, by Heartfield and others, were widely distributed in anti war magazines. Work appeared on posters, in magazine, newspapers, calendars and leaflets, by doing this Heartfield deliberately ‘Broke down the traditional distinction between fine and applied arts’. Evans, 1986, p15.

Montage created a new way of thinking, rather than seeing a separate image, or a series of similar images, montage allowed its user to combine various images from separate events to give the viewer a unique point of view. Between the First and Second World War members of the Avant Garde movement used montage, which can include images, text, painting, to arrange facts. Berger writes in his essay The Political Uses of Photomontage about one of the advantages of the technique

‘everything which has been cut out keeps it’s familiar photographic appearance. We are still looking first at things and only afterwards as symbols’
(Berger 1972, p185)

This, according to Wells (2001 p??) gives a certain naturalness about an image or message which in fact constructed. Although the image had possibly been seen before, having it being taken out...

Bibliography: Brandon L (2007) Art and War, I.B Tauris & Co Ltd.
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Wells, L (2001) Photography; a critical introduction (second edition) Canada Routledge
Lasswell, H D (1927) The theory of Political Propaganda, The American Political Science Review, (online) Aug.1927 Vol 21, No 3 (available http;//links.jestor.org/sici?sici=0003-0554%28192708%2921%3A3%3C627%3ATTOPP%3E2.0.CO%3B2-L) 2008
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