Wednesday, April 6, 2011

RemIx/Bricolage: Making Art from Multiple Images

It is the everyday image that catches my eye that often serves as the stimulus for a composition: An elderly woman and her companion out for a walk, a school crossing guard, a young girl praying, a barren tree, or the light reflecting on the wings of birds.   At the moment, I am usually unclear about why the image is of interest, but have come to trust that I may later include aspects of the work I shoot in larger compositions. This form of photographic bricolage is a method I use to compose the six images shown here. In The Savage Mind, Claude Lévi-Strauss (1962/1966) referred to bricolage as the make-do activities a handyperson employs while working. Like a bricoleur, I am one who tinkers with the images at hand. Lévi-Strauss explained that “the materials of the bricoleur are elements which can be defined by two criteria: they have had a use...and they can be used again” (p. 35, italics in original). So too is this true for me as an artist.

A Pocket Full of Stones
The images shown here are the result of tinkering with many individual photographs taken and rearranged to create new compositions, or remixed from other sources, such as historical images.  For example, in A Pocket Full of Stones  I created the finished composition by using an image of Virginia Woolf, a page of her writing, and an image I had made of a river bed.  I was aware that Woolf suffering from depression committed suicide at the beginning of spring, 1941.  She put on her overcoat, filled the pockets with stones, walked into the River Ouse and drowned herself. 

And The Stars Fell One-by-One

In And The Stars Fell One by One, I composed the final image using three photographs.  I began by being interested in the background image of a piece of leather.  I layered that image on top of a second image I made of New York City and the Hudson River.  Working in Photoshop CS4, I adjusted the top layer so that the image of leather lent texture to the water and buildings, and replaced the sky.  I next added a third photograph of an eclipse I had taken a year earlier. I completed the composition by adjusting the lighting. 

American Bus Stop: Aging in America

With the composition, The American Bus Stop: Aging in America, I combined four different photographs I had taken into one composition.  I did not begin with the idea that I wanted to comment on aging in America, but as I worked with the image of the old building and train tracks and merged it with the image of New York City apartments, I recalled a third image I had taken a few weeks earlier of an older woman and her companion out walking.  At the time I made the image of the couple, I was moved by the fragility of the woman and thought about the loneliness and vulnerability of the aged in America.  I removed everything from that third image except the woman and her companion and placed them into the composition on the tracks and then added a darken tunnel that I drew by hand.   I added a fourth image, some graffiti, to the brick wall and then adjusted the overall lighting, which helped to unite the disparate sections into a single composition.  All of the manipulation was done in Photoshop CS4. As I worked, the idea of showing how vulnerable the elderly are in America became clearer and I decided to create a series of works that served as commentary—situations I thought important to stop and notice.

American Bus Stop: No Lemming Left Behind
In the companion work. American Bus Stop: No Lemming Left Behind, I wanted to comment on the 2001 education law, No Child Left Behind that I believe has been a disaster for children.  In this case, I worked more deliberately.  While stopped for a school bus one morning, I shot the images of the crossing guard and the children.  Later that morning, I shot the image of the strip of land and the Hudson River and began to compose the final image in my mind.  Working in Photoshop, I began with the image of the river and adjusted the overall lighting and darkened the rocks.  I then placed the crossing guard so that the stop sign was to the viewer and then added the trio of children who had not stopped and are walking into the river.  I completed the work by adjusting the overall lighting to lend cohesion to the work.  In this case I wanted the lighting to also look like searchlights.
Happiness is the Longing for Repetition
Happiness is the Longing for Repetition was created from three different images I had made, along with a photoshop layer I added of handwriting where the  title, which comes from Milan Kundera’s novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being was repeated.  This is the most complicated work of the group shown here.  The background image was made by manipulating a single image of a house.  I added by hand, the wood planking, drawing elements of the wood and copying and adding sections until it looked as if there were a series of wood planks. I then duplicated the image and reversed it so that a mirror image comprised the background.  I then added the image of the tree I had lifted from another photograph I had made while in Ireland and then layered the wording on top of the entire composition.  The four birds were taken from another photograph of mine shot in Dublin early in the morning and placed into the composition that I heavily tinted gold. I purposely did not mirror the birds as I wanted to heighten the absence of complete repetition with this element.
The idea for the final image, Voyeur, occurred while I was photographing at a lake. I was captivated by a young girl who had come to the edge of the lake with a prayer book in her hand and was praying.  Even as I shot the image of her, I also recognized the conflict I felt that I was intruding in a private moment. Voyeur, is a statement about the tension artists face when making art: What remains private and what private moments do we make public? Voyeur, a compilation of four photographs, is an attempt to show that tension. The image of the corner store was made in Paterson, NJ, and the image of the photographer I shot at the same lake the day I made the image of the girl.  The background is watercolor.
Like the bricoleur, it is the tinkering with everyday images of ordinary life resituated, that inspires my art.


  1. Mary Ann .. this is an awesome and enlightening look into the mind of a very great artist ... thank you so so much for sharing your creative path. Having dabbled (dabbled ONLY) in this kind of art myself, you give inspiration to the rest of us!!!!!!!!! WOW!!!!! Best, Lois Bryan

  2. Thank you so much, Lois. I love the work you have posted on RedBubble and am honored by your comments.

  3. Love this work; thanks for sharing it, as well as the explanations. I'll point my students toward this, to be inspired :)

    1. Good to know Annette. Hope to see your students' works.

  4. Evocative and haunting, these images invite us to rethink assumptions and pay more attention to what's around us. Thank you for sharing all these.
    Not sure I ever told you, but Richie was born in Paterson.


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