Still life with branches and ferns, 1857, Adolphe Braun, Rijksmuseum, Public Domain Mark

Collages are made by combining separate visual elements into a new and unique composition. Sometimes patterning is used to create impact, sometimes the components are scattered across the scene. Irrespective of style, deliberately ‘collated’ compositions such as the ones below could be regarded as storyboards in which the artist or photographer shares an idea or an experience. Every inch of the image has its importance, so no detail should be left out when viewing these meticulously designed tableaux.

In this example, photographer F. W. Schmidt has mixed individual and group portraits of soldiers into one big scene. Exuding a sense of pride, patriotism and perhaps a grain of melancholy, he mimics the art of renaissance painters by arranging his subjects on different levels and creating perspective with a fanciful panorama in the back.

The technique used in this collage is also very effective. Here, the photographer has created letters by meticulously arranging individual school portraits. As a whole, the pictures spell out HCS: the initials of Hoover City School, within which the class of 1923 is represented.

A collage is not always intended to be purely narrative or decorative. Often, it represents an artist’s feelings and beliefs. Because of its strongly associative nature, collage often functions like a ‘portrait of the soul’, a manifesto or a pamphlet.

Double Happiness, 1979 , Woody van Amen, Museum Het Valkhof, CC BY
Double Happiness, 1979 , Woody van Amen, Museum Het Valkhof, CC BY

In Double Happiness, Dutch collage artist Woody van Amen used photographic images and neon to create a work of art alluding to current events in his own artistic language. The scene with Richard Nixon and Mao Zedong refers to a meeting between the two world leaders in 1972: an important instance of rapprochement between the East and the West. Behind the two figures, van Amen added an image of the Matterhorn: a recurring motif in his work, as is the oriental symbol that is patterned to make up the backdrop. The characters at the bottom of the collage spell out ‘Matterhorn’.

Compiling imaginative collages and montages was a strong point of the Catalan surrealists of the 1930s, who turned magazine advertorials into fascinating photographic puzzles.

Untitled, 1930-1934, Josep Maria Lladó Bausili , Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, CC BY-NC-ND
Untitled, 1930-1934, Josep Maria Lladó Bausili , Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, CC BY-NC-ND

In this example, Josep Maria Lladó Bausili demonstrates why he was a prize-winning photographer and an icon of avant-garde photography. Overlaying multiple images of a hand holding a baton with an image of hands clapping, this montage evokes the excitement of a performance and the dynamics of the art of music.

Pere Català Pic too was an innovator and a pioneer of commercial photography in Spain. His interest in psychological theories of advertising resulted in an active collaboration with the Psychotechnical Institute of the ‘Generalitat’ of Catalonia. Under the brand ‘PIC’, he produced campaigns for companies such as Cinzano vermout and Formitrol inhalers.

Untitled, 1933, Pere Català Pic , Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, CC BY-NC-ND
Untitled, 1933, Pere Català Pic , Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, CC BY-NC-ND

In the image above, an impressive collection of items of fashion, make-up and perfumery creates a mesmerising scene that – almost like a ‘Where's Wally?’ illustration – entices the eye to keep looking around and investigate.