Cubism, Joiners and The Multiple Viewpoint

How do you see the world? Look around you - do you see the scene in front of you as a whole scene, a neat little square with every thing visible at once - just like a photograph or painting? Or do you see a variety of elements and fragments? For example if you look at a person in a room do your eyes see the whole or do your eyes flicker between different parts of the scene - from......

a fraction of the persons face... their hand resting... a part of the ceiling.

Then does your brain piece all these elements together to create the whole scene...

This is probably a closer description of how we see the world - from multiple viewpoints that are then pieced together by our mind. In this joiner by David Hockney he has tried to create this effect out of 24 Polaroid prints. He did this because he was interested in how we see and depict space and time. His is interested in how we turn a 3 dimensional world into a 2 dimensional image, how perspective is used in western art and how space is treated differently in non-western art. He did not particularly make joiners because he liked the novel effect of using photographs in this way. However, he did like the way this technique allowed the viewer to read space. He sometimes laid the images out in a neat grid.

and sometimes Hockney would overlap the images to create a whole scene out of smaller fragments.

This is one of Hockney's most famous Joiners of an American Highway. This image is made out of thousands of photographs and is almost 2 meters high by 3 meters wide. When seen in real life your eyes can explore it from corner to corner.

From the rubbish on the floor...
.. to the horizon.

Hockney would have had to bend down to photograph the floor, climb up ladders to photograph the street signs and walk down the highway to photograph the horizon. All this took him 8 days so he did not only warped space and distance but also showed the passing of time in one image. The image also showed the scene from  multiple viewpoints - just like way we see the world.

Hockney's first love and main medium is drawing and painting, not photography. He is fascinated in how we make images and in the history of image making. To understand how Hockney, a painter, is as famous for his joiners we need to look at his influences.

Certain joiners hold clues to his thinking. In this joiner by Hockney he has photographed the desk from multiple viewpoints warping time and space. On the desk is a book and the book is open on a page that shows this picture by Pablo Picasso -

Pablo Picasso 'Guitar' 1913
The image is by Pablo Picasso and it is a picture of a guitar. He has abstracted the image as if it has been seen from multiple viewpoints and so the guitar itself seems fractured. Segments of the 'Guitar' are cut from a variety of materials - a piece of old wall paper, a scrap of cardboard and a circle cut out of newspaper. This is an example of Picasso's and George Braque's Synthetic Cubism and shows a break away from traditional mediums in western art. How did Picasso get to this stage?

Picasso 'First Communion' 1895/96

When we think of Picasso we think of abstract faces and forms. People who do not like art use Picasso as an example of why Modern art has lost its way. They might say "It looks like a child has done it" or "I could do better with my eyes closed" - and they would be half right. Picasso spent a lifetime questioning art and western aesthetics traditions. When he was fourteen he painted this image above of his sisters first communion. He could have and spent the rest of his life painting the world as he saw it and continuing the traditions he had learnt - becoming an esteemed member of the Academy. However, airplanes were in the air, the first cars were on the street and a new century was on the horizon. Like any self respecting fourteen year old he wanted to make a difference, to rebel, to question and be remembered. So he helped to reinvent and revolutionise art - that is why we remember him.

'The critics say I draw like a child. When I was a child I drew like Raphael. It took me my whole life to draw like a child.' 
Pablo Picasso

To understand why Picasso went from a realistic painting style to a style people could describe as abstract you have to look at his influences.

Paul Cezanne 'The Card Players' 1890-1892

In 1907 there was a retrospective exhibition of work by Paul Cezanne. Picasso and George Braque both saw and were both influenced by Cezanne. Cezanne was a Post-Impressionist who was fascinated how the three dimensional world could be describes by paint as a two dimensional image.

Paul Cezanne 'Still life with plaster cupid' 1895

At first glance Cezanne'sCezanne abandoned traditional perspective and the table appears to buckle, as if viewed from shifting angles.

Braque and Picasso were influenced by Cezanne's distortion of western perspective. They were also  becoming increasingly aware of other alternatives to Western tradition - the art of Africa challenged Western art's ideas of naturalism and beauty.

Pablo Picasso 'Les Demoiselles d'Avignon' 1907

You can see elements of African art in what is considered to be the first Cubist painting - Picasso's 1907's 'Les Demoiselles d'Avignon'. Its collapse of perspective and combination of geometric shapes and 'primitive' styles (influenced by Iberian sculpture and African art) were a reinvention of the possibilities of art. Broken, jagged, intersecting lines dominate the picture, making the eye leap from one jutting form to the next. The fusion of figures and background was inspired by Cezanne's 'Bathers' (1894-1905) painting. Picasso looked to the past but influenced the future.

George Braque 'Pair of Banderillas' 1911

Picasso collaborated with George Braque to create Analytical cubism. At this time Braque and Picasso's work was very similar - they worked from the subject but using different viewpoints, overlapping planes,   a similar earthy colour palette and creating a shallow pictorial space. Although cubism seems abstract it is based on life and tries to capture the truth - in many ways it could be the most realistic way to paint an image.

This is Picasso's portrait of the art dealer Ambroise Vollard who championed and was painted by Cezanne (in 1899). Picasso would claim that this is a more truthful portrait than a traditional approach. The image is fractured and made up of geometric planes - like a piece of broken glass. Vollards bald head explodes and is elongated, his downcast eyes seem closed and his features are merely suggested. The whole image has a similar hue - flesh tones, browns, greens and blues. Picasso would move on from cubism (though a stylised version of it can be seen in his later works) - but ultimately Cubism is his key contribution to art.

David Hockney 'Mother I, Yorkshire Moors, August 1985 No.1' 1985

Which brings us back to Hockney. The link between Cezanne's, Picasso's and Braque's fractured multiple viewpoints and Hockney's use of joiners can be seen clearly in this joiner of his mother. Like the portrait of Vollard we can see his mothers face from the front, the left hand side and the right hand side. This is not an abstract approach - this is how we might see Hockney's mothers face if she was in front of us.

Cezanne influenced Picasso -
Picasso influenced Hockney's Joiners -
and Hockney's Joiners influenced many contemporary artist.

Soundtrack Album artwork for the film 'Dancer in the Dark' (2000) dir. Lars von Trier
'Source Code' movie poster
The fractured nature of cubism changed art but it is also seen today in common commercial images. In the bottom poster for the film 'Source Code' the figure is broken up into small fractured shards as if he is disintegrating. The films plot involves a fractured storyline where the main character lives through same 8 minutes of time. The main characters confusion and the broken timeline is reflected in this kinetic image.
Marianne Faithful's version of a portrait by Rankin (from 'Destroy Rankin')

In a collaborative project called 'Destroy Rankin' musicians have 'Destroyed or reinterpreted portraits of themselves taken by Rankin. Rankin takes the original photograph but the final image is, ultimately, a self portrait. This image by Marianna Faithful has the same fractured feel as Picasso and Hockney.
Eva Eun-sil Han - Untitled 2010
These contemporary photo montages explore breaking images up into other geometric shapes. Picasso's Analytical Cubist paintings used geometric shapes and not squares to break up the subject. Hockney uses the qualities and characteristics of whatever medium he is using (paint, photocopier, Ipad) - and this is why his joiners stick to the square format of the photograph.
This album cover design for Primal Screams 'Vanishing Point' has a cubist feel mixed with the feel of a Joiner. Colour film has been dissected and stuck back together and the effects created by overlaid negatives and clear tape becomes part of the aesthetic look.
Daniel Crooks
Daniel Crooks - 'Portrait #1 (Self), Portrait #2 (Chris), Portrait #3 (Chris)'  2007

Daniel Crooks 'Pan No.8' 2010 (HD video)

Daniel Crooks 'Static No.12'(seek stillness in movement) 2009-2010 (video)

The contemporary artist Daniel Crooks' work takes the idea of multiple viewpoints and uses digital media to playfully explore this theme. He uses digitally video to chop up, warp or blends images - creating distorted figures that seem to have been stretched by using a slow shutter speed or a photocopier. The images feel like they distort time and space and in this respect relate to the work of the Futurist's (an early 20th Century movement that in some aspects was influenced by Cubism).

Sohei Nishino - Diorama Map London 2010

This Photographic joiner of the city of London is a patchwork of around 4,000 Black and White photographs by Japanese artist Sohei Nishino. Nishino has mapped out ten cities including London, Paris and New York City. Nishino describes the process as "re-imagining" a landscape and it begins with a month long walk through the city. He photographs different sections of a City on Black and White film. He then hand processes the images and assembles them using scissors and glue in his Tokyo Studio. In an age where photographs are consumed on glowing computer screens and not printed out Nishino makes large, physical objects assembled from photographs printed by himself. The images are linked to ancient maps that abstracted land and our modern world of google earth.

Sohei Nishino - Diorama Map London Detail

When the images are viewed 'in the flesh' you can explore the image as it is built up from hundreds of mini joiners. There are rivers and buildings but there are also tiny details that you could miss if you were in the city itself. Look closely and you will find faces in the crowd - chopped up looking like a miniature Vollard or Hockney's mother. Pigeons on roofs are also there - all the aspects of the complex  modern city are there waiting to be discovered by the viewer.

Sohei Nishino - Diorama Map New York

You can watch Nishino make one of his Diorama Maps here.

This image is a montage made up of several joiners that blend together. It shows a piece of music being created, composed, recorded and performed.

Thomas Kellner creates his joiners directly on the film. He photographs the subject in a specific order so when he lays the negative strips out they form a joiner. Partly by design and partly by their nature the images are chaotic and a straight forward building becomes an abstract cubist piece of architecture.

Frank O Gehry - Walt Disney Concert Hall
Makoto Sei Watanabe - K Museum
Thomas Kellner - Tate Modern

We consider photographs to tell the truth and show us the world. However, Kellner's images reinvent the original subject. He captures every part of the scene like an eye darting from one area to the next.

Like Kellner Bill Vazan creates grids of photographs that often form globe like shapes. These are achieved by standing in a central position and taking a number of shots (for example 3) at slightly different angles (eg. top, middle and bottom). He then slightly adjusts his position and repeats this. He keeps doing this until he has turned a full circle. Once the images are laid out a dome or globe effect is achieved.

The above images were used using th TTV (Through The Viewfinder) technique (see more here)

Szymon Roginski
These works are by Szymon Roginski who said these works were inspired by Cubism. The cubist painters wanted to show the world from multiple view points and here Roginski has tried to achieve this through photography. Roginski produced these works for the fashion designer Ania Kuczynska and began with a series of photo-shoots. The images were then printed, constructed into geometric shapes and assembled back together to create the original image. The photo-sculpture was then re-photographed to create the final piece.

Creating your own Joiner in the style of David Hockney is simple (to gain inspiration look here).

Above I have included a scan from the 1990 book 'Creative Photography' by Russ Malkin that shows you how to take and piece together a joiner (click on the image to make it bigger). You can also use a program like Adobe Photoshop to create a joiner - (See tutorial here).