“We called this process photomontage because it embodied our refusal to play the part of the artist. We regarded ourselves as engineers, and our work as construction: we assembled our work, like a fitter.” Photomontages are photographs juxtaposed together with skill and intelligence in a way intended to agitate and spread propaganda to the masses.
Martha Rosler is a proment American artist with her works centered on the public spectrum and everyday life throught a womens’ experience. Recurring concers are the media, architeure, the household and the environment. Her photomontage Bringing the War Home is a subseries within House Beautiful, a collection of 10 montages printed in an underground newspaper opposed to the Vietnam War.
The construction of Rosler’s House Beautiful: Giacometti (1967–1972) reveals more than Rosler’s opposition to the Vietnam War. It also demonstrates the media’s growing influence to separate antiwar protesters from patriotic citizens in the United States. The aesthetic strategies in the Giacometti montage parallel the emotions and struggles of the American people during the Vietnam War. When the government had an obligation to eliminate a threat, support of the government represented patriotism in America, whereas opposition to the war was seen as unpatriotic. The opposition, however, saw photographic documentation and news in the media about mass murders by American people, leading to questioning of the morality and winnability of the Vietnam War. Similarly to Rosler’s construction of the photomontage, the media selected and displayed images to incite certain emotions in audiences. Likewise, Rosler carefully selected her photos and their setting to illustrate her frustrations with the images shown in the media. Rosler first distributed these montages in an underground newspaper without text to emphasize her message about the war. These montages became a rallying point decrying the patriotic message.
“So much of my work involved the Vietnam War that it would have been obscene to show it in a gallery. But now, it’s different; it’s important to remember and to enable the young to discover what to some of us is still so present.” In these few lines, Rosler questions the temporality of art and defines her Vietnam works as an historical memorial. She asks the age-old question of what art is and what is fit to be called art. Art has evolved throughout history. First, it glorified religion, then it praised the state, and today, neither is the main purpose of art. Art can be done for the sake of art, with no clear purpose. However, should artists such as Rosler be able to define aspects of their work, in her case, saying that the photomontage series is not art until the passing of the war? Art historians review works without the intervention of the artists but can offer different readings depending on when they consider artworks. During the Vietnam War, the actions of the government, students, communities, and the art world could all be incorporated into one piece. Today, however, researchers have to find secondary resources or old memories to bring life and meaning to the photomontage.
Rosler’s art is intertwined with her words as a writer, complicating the reading of her work. She has defined when her work can be recognized as art and what purposes its serves. While it is important to note her views, they do not solely define the reading of the work. For the purpose of this paper, Rosler’s work is read in the context of the period it was made, not in light of the history of reactions to it. Rosler’s House Beautiful series deliberately draws connections and similarities between the people safely at home and those exposed to the war. Americans had a new connection to the war and could witness and experience what the war was like through television news coverage. This coverage illuminated the stark reality of war in contrast to ideas about war. Rosler succeeded in illustrating this through her montage of modern life interspersed with snippets of war images. As media coverage increased, so did the rise of anti-war protests.
Giacometti is a photomontage depicting an upscale, affluent American home, featuring sophisticated, modernist art and elegantly furnished with orchids on display as in Life magazine. In this seamless photomontage, one can almost miss the decaying corpse in the backyard and the fragile, skeleton-like silhouette walking inside the home. One photo in the montage refers to the work featured in the title: Alberto Giacometti’s Homme Qui Marche. The shadow near the curtains in Giacometti is of a bronze sculpture depicting a single man in mid-stride, with his arms hanging loosely on his side. The statue represents the potential of humanity and depicts an ordinary man with humble beginnings. Giacometti is said to have viewed “the natural equilibrium of the stride” as a symbol of “man's own life force.” A symbol of humanity, Homme Qui Marche is allowed to roam the halls of the home. He is the standard and goal that every anti-war protester strives to achieve. However, without this context, in a public setting, he becomes like the corpse in the yard: a hunting nomad threatening the safety of the home. A thin, hunched-over figure is the picture of a malnourished man with no hope of surviving another day. By adding this piece to the work, Rosler challenges the audience to dig deeper beyond its surface.
Viewing the work is itself a process. For example, in the First Lady montage, the scene in the picture frame is not from the Vietnam War but a movie starring a popular actress at the time. Without this knowledge, the montage might be read as a criticism of Madame Nixon’s lavish, gold-encrusted lifestyle, while horrible images of the war creep in without her knowledge or approval. She is either ignorant or complacent, and the audience is asked whether they will be the same. Will the viewers be ignorant and take the image at face value? Will they knowingly allow this distorting image to influence their views of Madame Nixon and let the war continue? Or will they take action, protest what they see and feel, and dig deeper to find the light?
Homme Qui Marche was created just five year before Rosler started on her Bringing the War Home series. While this statue may not be the exact statue that Rosler used it is an appropriate shadow befitting of the photomontage Giacometti. The life-size of Homme Qui Marche further ties the audience into the setting of the montage. The sculpture is minturazation or the shadow of the original like the setting is a shadow of a home. Futher more they are scales down to become newspaper images. They once existed part of space but were distorted through the cutting and pasting of additional images thus, no longer existing in space. “Space does not exist, it has to be created… Every sculpture based on the assumption that space exists is wrong; there is only the illusion of space” noted by Alberto Giacometti in 1949. For the artist Giacometti, space is an illusion he creates through the placement and existing of his sculptures. Rosler varies by using an existing space to mold into her illusion.
While I have not been able to find the exact moment of the other photos in the image. I know that the setting is an architecture of a wealthy American home.
the scattered lifeless bodies were one of the first uncensored types of photography brought back to the general public. When before the only view of the aftermath of war where empty battlefield that let the public to imagine their version with the context of text included with the photograph.
Rosler is literally bringing the war out into the American home. Giacometti like other works from the series, at first glance, shows the normality of the home but with an eerie undertone that creeps up on the viewer through further observations. The seamlessness connection between both photographs is so precise that it is difficult to notes any irregularities.
Balloons, for example, communicate a man carrying his napping child after his birthday party.
The visual cue of the balloons, the title of the work and a man carrying a baby is processed in the viewer's mind as a sleeping toddler not the lifeless corpse of the baby. The placement of each photograph into the work build the emotional connection in the reader and further contextualized what the viewer is seeing with what they should see. Rosler is guiding the viewer to look closer like they should look closer to the happening in their home. The living room once a place to read and have piece is being filled with war. The media has repetitively brought the images ups so much that they have become common as apart from the living room and everyday life. The obliviousness of the viewer has become common.
The Vietnamese war is considered the last photo journalized war and the first televised war. this is important because the shift in the portrayal war will mean that Rosler's montage of photos will be one of the last influential pieces before the televising of war shifts the dynamic of the illustrations of war. At the start of the war, the media’s portrayal was positive and congruent with the government’s anti-communist stance. Prior to 1965 Journalist
where welcome and very few people opposed American participation in the war. It was not till the war escalated in 1965 that antiwar protesters became more prominent and media’s outlook changes. The display of massive death counts and gruesome photographs and videos influenced Rosler’s creation of Bringing the War Home.
Montage soviet montage 1920’s
Photographs in their entirety are seen as a moment frozen in time that cannot be corrupted to portray a specific ideal. The moment Rosler cut into the living room photo to include the corpses and the silhouette she manufactured her own portrayal of the photograph. There forth adding her own beliefs like how the media started changing their viewing of the war. A photomontage may contain elements that were once real and turns it into the imaginary.
In the 1920’s the soviet’s developed the creation and development of cinema through editing. The Theory of montage proposes that films deriver their ultimate power and meaning through the way the shots are cut together through: order, duration, repetition, and rhythm.
In the process of developing the media, they inexplicably followed the methods the Soviet montage which elicited a response from the population. News stations began airing war imaging longer creating changes with the sole purpose of bringing the war into the American home. Rosler saw this juxtaposition of the home in America to that of the war in Vietnam and brought this to life. Soviet montage used video as propaganda to further their goals as did the media.
Cleaning the Drapes, for example, is a common household image a child would have seen their mother doing and in the background soldiers in uniform are waiting. Both the uniforms and a cleaning mother are parallel in the same space of the living room home. Both are doing their social moral duty to society and the country. The pairing of them together questions the commonality of this scene happening in the 1970s. Mothers are forced to watch as their sons and husbands are drafted into the war as they keep the order of the country and the household. While the pairing of the images today differences in situations of the here and the there. In the 1970’s the image would have incited anger and frustration on behalf of the soldier and families torn apart from the draft. Rather than being a juxtaposition of to images in the media Rosler derived her ideal of the juxtaposition of her life and that of the media portrayal
The careful and precise placement of montage provokes and creates emotions from the viewer that is constructor by the engineer.
Giacometti is a beautiful montage that hides in plain sight. At first glance the viewers are resassured of the safety of their homes. On the second glance and consequently any other, the viewer is pulled into the dark undertones of the war. The second glance and any after pulls darker undertones into the peripheral of the viewer. The problem is that once the viewer finds the second layer to the photomontage, such as Rosler’s work, they stop looking deeper into the photomontage. By reading into the aesthetical process of House Beautiful: Giacometti this paper continues its conversation with the work. Further widening the understanding of montage and the important how a set of images lead the reader with a clear impression of emotions. The recurring disregard of the process Giacometti will not change the understanding of the Vietnam war for future generations.
I took a look as well. Good work overall 😄 The last two closing sentences are unclear to me. What are you trying to say?
Learn but don't copy directly ;)