Dada is: PHOTOGRAPHY
Photography had yet to find itself a place in the art of the early twentieth century. Dada offered it a home. Whether the Dadaists really saw the creative potential of the medium or simply embraced it to be contrary to tradition is a topic for debate, but regardless, the Dada photographers became ingenious pioneers of this new and versatile technology.
Man Ray described his discovery of photography as a final freedom from the sticky medium of paint and explained his practice as working directly with light itself. Light could be used to create impossible but grounded combinations of dreams and reality – the ordinary becoming fantastic. This radical meeting of the unexpected and the mundane was a perfect battleground for the Dadaists to manifest their criticisms of war. Simple documentary images of WW1 were not enough – the value of hard fact bearing little relevance to horror – and so the chaos and senseless mash-ups of images in Dada photographs and photomontages told a more visceral and honest story.
These early experiments in photography would develop immensely in the following years and the medium has always been embraced by subsequent avant-garde movements as a brilliant tool to subvert conservative values and highlight both the deadly destruction and the unlikely beauty of a disordered world. The surrealists worked like Dada to trick the eye into dreaming, the Neo-Dadaists began to actualise photographs physically as “readymade” sculptures and, of course, Pop Art – the monarch of the photographic art movements – was able to reach grand heights from the solid foundations left by those that preceded.
A kind of Dadaist attitude to photography is present in our own mundane everyday as well. Advertising imagery becomes more and more ethereal and random, fashion photography no longer relies on the actual clothes to tell a story but rather the unlikely setting of the model, and photography on social media can be clearly surreal and surprising. Ever pinging forth from smart phones is an endless stream of highly constructed, conceptual and totally bizarre images. Man Ray’s use of Snapchat would be a sight to see!