As Hockney grew into his new style of photography, he moved to a more free approach, without the strict lines and squares of the Polaroid. For this method, he would take many photographs over a period. This was quicker than the Polaroids but also meant that it was more complex and often required greater planning. For this, as with his earlier work, he often used friends and family – with whom he could spend lots of time and could develop close emotional bonds and understanding.
For Hockney, this free approach removed the fundamental problem of the rectangle and its edges, allowing as much or as little of any part of the scene to be included – control over which is normally reserved for painters. By choosing details and controlling the shape he directs the viewer’s attention through the space, often creating a narrative to guide them. Unlike with the Polaroids, he often left empty space, simply leaving out ordinary, obvious details or often leaving the viewer to use their imagination to fill the gaps. Overall this technique produced pictures which were coherent but quite irregular images.
‘Photographing Annie Leibovitz While She’s Photographing Me’, 1983, Photographic Collage, edition: 4, 25 7/8 x 61 3/4 in.
The layout of this piece is typical of Hockney using this technique to show the course the eye takes. By using the camera to follow where his eyes went, he records a story through the image, but cleverly leaves out the details we don’t need – like an expanse of snow. To create these pieces, he gets his films professionally printed, then lays out the prints on a large board. He cares little for gaps in the image, for uneven edges or even for badly printed photos. It is the overall image he concentrates upon, the effect of all the pictures together to form one.
Here, Hockney wants to show the technical effort Annie Leibovitz and her team are going to in order to produce a single image of Hockney. For him, the photograph they create is artificial, and though his image is simpler it is a far more truthful account of the scene.
‘Telephone Pole’, 1982, Photographic Collage. edition: 15 66×40 in.
Hockney was interested in the idea of perspectives and especially forming long or wide pieces not normally possible with a single photo. Here he has photographed the whole of a telephone pole at close range, able to get the full pole using joiners. At the bottom he has also included his own feet which he often does, sometimes using them as a starting point for the rest of the image.
‘My Mother’, Photographic Collage, Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire, Nov 1982
At first glance, this image could almost be a cut-out of a real photo. The edges of the separate pictures blend together so well here that if it were not for the angular outline it could be normal photograph.
Hockney’s portrayal of his mother here is easily compared to that in the Polaroid ‘Mother’. There she is strong and powerful, where as here, in an overcast, wet Yorkshire day, she is small, ageing and lonely. Perhaps a look at mortality, this Hockney image is a sad perspective on the passing of time. Hockney’s feet at the bottom here indicate his closeness to the subject.
Here again he shows how the shape can be whatever is necessary, even with a missing area right in the centre of the picture.