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In the early 20th century the Dada movement emerged in Europe as a creative response to the political climate of post-WWI. The movement brought together musicians, writers, and visual artists who broke the boundaries of their respective industries through innovative techniques and by bending the rules of traditional art making. In terms of visual art, Dada is known for the development of techniques like collage and photomontage. Artists like Hannah Hoch and Max Ernst physically cut and pasted mass media images to create artworks that often had political undertones and expressed discontent with issues like violence, war, and gender inequality.

Just like fashion moves in cycles, art movements also reinvent themselves through advances in technology. It’s been a decade since the emergence of Dada, but techniques such as photomontage and collage are being revived and reinvigorated through contemporary photography. Although lacking in political motivation like the Dada movement, these photographers are breaking boundaries and taking full advantage of the creative potential of modern technology. The following photo sets show that Photoshop isn’t just a tool for retouching or editing but can be a powerful medium in creating compelling artwork.

  • By: Ikumi Cooray

01. ‘Playground’ by James Mollison

In his 2014 series ‘Playground’ James Mollison captures schoolyards in cities across the world. The schools’ locations and identities vary greatly, including a low-income Catholic school in LA, a school for the blind in Kenya and a school within a refugee camp in Bethlehem. Mollison’s final images are made up of several photographs taken from the same location over a period of time. The photos are composed to create a sense of movement, buzz, and commotion. Coupled with their varying locations and settings, the series sends a powerful message about children’s universal experiences with socialisation and play.

02. ‘Selected People’ by Pelle Cass

Similarly to Mollison, Pelle Cass creates composite images made up of multiple individual photographs. These photos are stitched together so seamlessly that it almost looks like a scene that has been intentionally staged and directed. Cass’ work depicts the way people move through and inhabit public spaces. By layering several images into one, Cass is able to create patterns with the subjects of his work, often arranging them by colour or shape to create an intriguing final image. Cass’ recent work depicts a basketball stadium—showing the movement and dynamism of a full basketball game captured in one single photo. Cass explains that he uses Photoshop to “increase imperfection, not remove it,” and that he never moves any figures in his work, but rather carefully selects which figures to remove and which to keep.

03. ‘Imagine Finding Me’ by Chino Otsuka

Chino Otsuka’s photo series is prefaced by the text “If, again, I have the chance to meet, there is so much I want to ask and so much I want to tell.” In the series, Otsuka uses Photoshop to insert present-day images of herself into her childhood photos, creating work that is edited so smoothly that it’s hard to tell it has been  manipulated at all. Sometimes Otsuka is interacting with her childhood self and some photos show her as just a passer-by in the background. Otsuka’s work creates a sense of nostalgia—the photos play with depictions of time and space and add a new level of complexity to the humble self-portrait.