Here I will look at the first part of the question we’re trying to answer; the creative aspects of David Hockney’s ‘joiner’ photographs.
David Hockney took a lot of influence from Picasso and the cubist movement.
From Linda Bolton’s Cubism:
For centuries, most artists tried to capture exactly how things looked. Paintings were like photos of the real world. But, by about 1900, some artists were experimenting, for example by using non-realistic colors to convey feelings.
The Cubists went much further than this. They broke their subjects down into fragments and facets, and then rearranged the parts. These parts might be multiplied and seen from different points of view, like a side and frontal view of an eye.
This is a lot like what Hockney does with his photography. Instead of taking one still image of a scene, he takes many.
Hockney has an issue with standard photographs, namely, that they are too static in comparison to a painting. In the book Photographs (Hockney, 1986. P. 30), he states that when you look at a painting ‘…each area of the painting is a different time; it was done at a different moment. The hand making the marks moves through time and in viewing the picture you feel this, even though you might not be conscious of it.’ To him, the problem with a photo is that the image all appears instantly ‘As your eye moves across the surface of the photograph it’s the same time at the top left corner of the picture as it is in the bottom right.’ (Hockney, 1986. P. 30).
He thought a painting of somewhere was far more interesting than a photo taken of the exact same scene, even if it’s blown up to the same size, and questioned why this might be. He concluded that ‘The removal of the hand (the removal of the body) causes this. The hand moving through time reflects the eye moving through time (and life moving through time). The evidence of the hand is our time. The hand takes time to move, and we sense this.’
While taken photos of an Olympic swimming pool in 1972, Hockney discovered that numerous separate photos of a subject were more interesting to look at than one photo taken with a wide-angle lens.
He came to understand that if you put multiple photographs together (as in his ‘joiners’), it forces you to look at the whole image numerous times and are aware that each picture is taken from a slightly different viewpoint.
It was not until 1982 when Alain Sayag (of the Centre Pompidou in Paris) came to his home to choose photographs for an exhibition that Hockney was ‘able to state clearly the severe limitations of photography.’ and decided the next day to experiment with a Polaroid camera.
His first ‘joiner’ collages were in a grid, due to the white borders of the polaroids, but he moved onto a Pentax camera and the works changed to a less rigid layout.
Hockney’s aim with his photographs, then, seems to be twofold. Firstly he wanted to convey the sense of time that he believed you got when viewing a painting. He was not initially concerned with space but realized that the two are interlinked. He also concluded that his new way of photography was akin to drawing, in that he often went back and rephotographed parts of the scene and then made desicisions when placing the pictures as to what looked best to him.
His other goal was in making photographs less static and viewed in a way more akin to paintings, or even coming close to the way we see things in real life.
He knowledges in ‘Photographs’ that his style of photography was related to cubism and says ‘Cubism was about the destruction of a fixed way of looking. A fixed position implies we are standing still, that even the eye is still. Yet we all know our eyes move constantly, and the only time they stop moving is when we’re dead—or when we’re staring. And if we’re staring, we’re not really looking. That is the problem with the single-frame photograph: all you can actually do is stare at it. Your eyes cannot wander around in it, because of its inherent lack of time.’
Hockney is referring to the way that our eyes see by constantly moving around in what is known as saccades.
Some of his photographs resemble cubist paintings by artists such as Picasso. The artist produced, for instance, many works featuring guitars, violins and other musical instruments. Hockney’s Still Life Blue Guitar, 4th April 1982 (below, top), could be said the bear a resemblance to any number of these, for example the 1915 painting Guitar and Newspaper (Guitare et journal).