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HomeContentsThemes > Mixed media

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Mixed media is the term used to define a single artwork that has been constructed out of several different types of artistic media. For example a mixed media object could consist of a photograph that has been drawn on or a photograph that has been affixed to a chair. There are many ways that photographs have been incorporated into mixed media artworks:
  • Writing on photographs
  • Painting on photographs
  • Adding items to photographs
1.   Writing on photographs
  • Duane Michals American photographer of fashion, portraits and the interiors of empty New York shops. He turned to creating sequences of photographs that were like scenes ripped out of a movie and these were frequently annotated with comments.
  • William Yang (1943-) Australian photographer and multimedia artist produced a series 'Sadness' in the 1990's that deals with the loss of friends from AIDS. His photographs of the heartbreaking losses are combines with his own handwritten notes about the witnessed events creating a reverent testimony to the loss.
  • The Chinese born photographer Don Hong-Oai (1929-2004) also combined photographs and calligraphy into a images that are reminiscent in color and mood of Chinese brush paintings.
  • Laszlo Layton uses calligraphy to create pages that look as if they are taken from early volumes of natural history.
A variant of using writing within photography is where the human body becomes the canvas for the text. In the Peter Greenaway film The Pillow Book (1996) writing on flesh is a key dramatic device when the writer Nagiko (played by Vivian Wu) sends men decorated with exquisite calligraphy to her publisher as a book proposal. Contemporary photographers and artists such as Shirin Neshat and Zhang Huan have used this technique.
Mixed media: Writing on the body
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Shirin Neshat
Allegiance of Wakefullness 
1994
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Zhang Huan
1/2 
1998
  
It should not be surprising that the most outstanding examples of this form of photography have come from China, Japan and the Islamic world where calligraphy is more readily accepted as an art form.
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2.   Painting on photographs
Photographic negatives and prints have frequently been spotted as a part of the darkroom process and retouching the image to remove extraneous information or to add in required detail has been commonplace.
 
A growing trend in contemporary American art is for artists with photographic and painting skills to combine them to create mixed media works. This approach seems particularly used by woman artists, but not exclusively so, and here people like Kate Breakey, Alexandra Eldridge, Elizabeth Ernst, Deborah Luster, Beverly Rayner, Holly Roberts and Ruth Thorne Thomson are all blending photography and painting.
Recent examples of painting on photographs
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Kate Breakey
Gila Woodpecker 
2002
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Elizabeth Ernst
Audrey Margaret Kelly 
2004
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Deborah Luster
The Floating Lady Retablos IX 
[Rosesucker Retablos] 
1998
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Ruth Thorne-Thomsen
Compass 
[Agua Tierra, Mexico] 
1999-2001
In the last twenty years there has been a revised interest in painting directly onto photographic prints. This varies between the subtle application of tinting on specific areas of the image to the creation of an object where the photograph has been subsumed into a new artistic form. Here the distinctions between photography and painting cease to have any meaning.
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To examine this area more thoroughly it is worth looking at works by Chuck Close, Arnulf Rainer and Lucas Samaras.  
  
3.   Adding items to photographs
During the nineteenth century using photography to preserve the memory of those that had gone before was a common practise and it was combined with the tradition of keeping a lock of hair as a physical link with the dead person. The Latin phrase 'memento mori' ('remember thy death' or more literally 'remember mortality') is used for artworks that are linked to mourning rituals. Here photographs of the dead are a tangible link with the spirit of the deceased.
Incorporating photographs into objects
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Man Ray
Indestructible Object 
1965
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Unidentified photographer/creator
Mourning brooch containing a portrait of a woman 
1880 (ca)
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Unidentified photographer/creator
Mary von Rosen, Photograph Album 
1920-1927 (ca)
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Unidentified photographer/creator
Untitled 
n.d.
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Using human hair with photographs
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Unidentified photographer/creator
Portrait of a man in braided hair frame 
1880 (ca)
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Unidentified photographer/creator
Postcard with real hair 
1910 (ca)
  
The durability of human hair and its ability to rejuvenate and the commonly held, but mistaken, belief that it continues to grow after death, has meant hair provides a tangible and symbolic link with a lover, relative or dead loved one.
 
Hair has been incorporated into photographs in many ways: it could be woven to form the backing for a locket containing a photograph, braided into a necklace to support an image, or preserved as a lock of hair in a glass fronted compartment within a frame.
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Mixed media
 
Geoffrey Batchen - Forget Me Not: Photography and Remembrance
Forget Me Not: Photography and Remembrance 
  
Geoffrey Batchen (Text)
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