Greta Merdan:

The Phantasmagoria of Accidentally Planned Fotoimages

 © Greta Merdan: Greta Merdan's self-portrait

“Collage is the cut, the tear, the rupture and the overlay of our contemporary culture. It is the hybrid language of urbanity—remixed, re-contextualized, and wholly built from the fragments of daily life.”

- Pavel Zoubok

Introduction: 

 

Often thought of as an archetypally modern artistic technique, the collage has origins in France and was used to describe Picasso's and Braque's Cubist innovations at the beginning of the 20th century. With the rise of the influence of digitalization, the technique of collage has strongly influenced photography. Barbara Confino, a writer and visual artist in her text "Collage and the Photographic Imagination" describes the technique with the following: "Mirroring both associative thought and emotional sensibility, it molds itself after the pattern of its maker more faithfully than any other medium save drawing", adding that "the dazzling possibilities of post-production have transformed photography from a primarily perceptual to a more deeply creative medium". 

(Source:cp.org/perspective/collage-and-the-photographic-imagination, Jul 06, 2016).

 

For some, the photo collages represent a challenge of what is considered to be a photograph. With the possibility of creating a narrative story by adding, removing, and using images and tools in the post-production process behind the computer, the photo collage technique greatly approaches painting. The work of a  German artist Greta Merdan based in Munich, which we will present in this article, follows the same logic, as something between painting and photography. Therefore, she uses the term "fotoimages" to describe her digital photographs. Recognizable for her color palettes, and composition, Greta Merdan's photographs tell a story of a modern and post-modern individual and his place in a depersonalised, defragmented world, where the element of nature is a warning and a reminder to preserve ourselves and our humanity.

© Greta Merdan: fotoimage, 2023

Ana: 

In your presentation on Espacio Fronterizo, an independent art magazine, I found that you mention artistic influences such as Hokusai, Degas, Bacon, and even Munch. In what sense did painting influence your photographic work? 

 

G. Merdan:

I would say that it is an influence in general. Paintings in museums, books, on posters accompanied me throughout my life. And the engagement with painters and their work was my academy. I learned not only about colors and composition, but also how to observe. My creative process is more centered on digital editing with photos as material as on taking photos. I am spending much more time on the laptop than with the camera. I love playing with different elements of photos, cutouts, and fragments. Computer and software are my tools. And it feels a bit like painting because there are so many tools for experimenting. Therefore, I call my pictures fotoimages.

 

Ana:

Do you remember what was the first image you photographed?

 

G. Merdan: 

I am not sure but in my memory, this is a picture from the recreation home where I had been sent to at the age of 12 or so. My mother had gifted me a Box, the old simple camera. It was the 50s, a time of great modesty for many children. The photograph looked a bit gloomy, a dark old house in the Black Forest, remembering the one in Hitchcock's "Psycho". Or maybe it had altered in my memory to that over time. We felt there as being locked in, we were not allowed to go out without surveillance, and they controlled how much we ate and what had been put on the plate - much pulp. An experience that made me remember the 3. Reich, which had ended not so long before.

© Greta Merdan: fotoimage, 2024

Ana: 

If you were given just one visual motive to photograph, as many times as you wanted, what would it be?

 

G. Merdan: 

Spontaneously comes in front of my eyes a corridor with closed doors. I tried to capture this sometimes, but I am still discontent not finding yet the right rooms, the light, the right perspective, and the mood. I am still in search of this image. Maybe a reminiscence of my childhood when we lived in a schoolhouse, as my father was a teacher. It was a large flat, but we had to share it with two sisters who had been expatriated from postwar Czechia. These sisters locked their doors every time they left a room, and my mind has unconsciously saved this kind of claustrophobic image. The image of these sisters with this sensation of an inside prison remains in my memory.

 

Ana: 

Could you explain the path you have taken from analog images to digital photo collages?

 

G. Merdan: 

This was not all of a sudden. At the beginning of the 90s, my daughter's boyfriend needed a buyer for his old computer. As it had photo editing software installed, I realized that I could start doing digitally these collages that were made analog up to that moment. I realized that there were endless possibilities for editing. I worked with scanned photos until some years later, when digital cameras became buyable. I was thrilled about it. One of the reasons is for sure my strong favor for mathematics and the idea of automatization since my childhood, without looking uncritically at the impact of both of them.

© Greta Merdan: fotoimage, 2023

Ana: 

Keeping in mind your engagement in film, as an associate director and assistant editor, could you explain more in detail how film influences your photographic work, and what would be your most memorable experiences from that time?

 

G. Merdan: 

There are many admired film directors, especially classic ones, like Antonioni and Melville. I love their strong composed film language, and there are also content commonalities in terms of solitude, alienation, and ruination of our world. Film work was a time when I learned that I didn't want to stay with movies. Film is teamwork, but I prefer to work for myself. By the way, like Melville, who even had his film studio... My most memorable experiences were while cutting: I remember staring at some pictures, a film stripe from a black-gloved hand, out of a light blue coat sleeve. Recorded by the camera in motion. What fascinated me was to have a materialized transformation in my hands from motion to pictures. You never know why such a self-evident phenomenon was so fascinating to me at this moment. The film experience influenced me to make collages from stringed-together serial shots, which was later another reason to go for digital.

 

Ana:

How much would you say that your work is "in tune" with the human condition of today’s world?

 

G. Merdan: 

This is one aspect that I try not to lose track of while working. In the end, I wonder if there is something more than a nice composition, if I can transport something from my perception of the world. I want to tell you something. Not in a direct manner, viewers should interpret their way. I have not to mention the disorder in our world, the fact, that there will be one time a posthumous era. Photos from present-day Chernobyl, where plants have recaptured the area, strongly impress me. They are my visions of a posthumous world.

© Greta Merdan: fotoimage, 2024

Ana:

In your biography, you mentioned collaborating with Erdal Merdan, a German dramatist, actor, and stage director. How did this experience influence your approach to photography?

 

G. Merdan: 

There had been many influences, of course, after all we had lived together for fourty years. I discovered my desire for staging. What I am doing now is some kind of orchestration too, there are commonalities to staging in theater. I feel like a director working with one actor, discovering the human body as a means of expression. Erdal Merdan was a migrant, as well as some of his friends. So I was impressed and curious to hear about their experiences. This and diversity became one of the issues for my pictures, the more, as I had experienced boundaries the other way in my biography.

 

Ana:

What would be, in your opinion, the 3 most important characteristics of a good photograph?

 

G. Merdan: 

Photography is tracing with light. Light is the most important thing. And it's capturing a moment. So it's a question of the right moment, the light, and finally the cutout and composition of the image. These are criteria for photography, not for my pictures. Because they are collages, they alienated themselves from photography. Therefore, I call them fotoimages. The most important criteria for my pictures are the idea of the image, the composition, and the colors.

© Greta Merdan: fotoimage, 2023

Ana:

What would be your favorite aspect of digital photography?

 

G. Merdan: 

I would point out the promptitude and spontaneity of digital photography. My affinity for digital photography and editing is driven by my love for experiments. I am working mostly with one tool, which has many variations, combining different photos or elements in various mathematic methods. In digital photography, accidents can be an object. I love these surprising moments when something unexpected arises due to computation. The result is always something that perfectly fits my imagination. I am completely in charge of the conception, based on the photos that I have captured and chosen. It's a matter of teamwork between me and the machine.

 

Ana:

What scenes from daily life (I do believe that your inspiration comes mostly from daily life scenes) do you find most intriguing for photography?

 

G. Merdan: 

I love to photograph grasses in all variations, using these photos often as signs. As a sign of the state of our nature.

 

Ana:

Lastly, Greta, could you recall what would be your dearest photograph so far and the story behind it?

 

G. Merdan: 

It is the photo from 2019, with an accidentally recorded girl on the streets of Kayseri/Turkey. It looks as if these doubled girls were standing in a field, but there is only fur hair in the foreground. I love that fallacy, the idea that there could be some other thing behind what is catching our eyes. That we should look twice.
This girl, this figure, is a sign for me too. She stands for Kayseri, which was my second home. I had often been there with Erdal. 

© Greta Merdan: fotoimage, 2019

 

 

More about Greta Merdan: 

website: https://gretamerdan.de

Instagram:  @gretamerdan

 

 
 

Sources:

Confino Barbara: "Collage and the Photographic Imagination", cp.org/perspective/collage-and-the-photographic-imagination, Jul 06, 2016

 

 

 

 

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Comments

Chanel
a month ago

Très bon article ! Merci !

HALIMI
a month ago

Comme avec un voile d Amour ❤️