PARIS COLLAGE COLLECTIVE X BEYOND PHOTOGRAPHY
An Interview with Paris Collage Collective
Beyond Photography has teamed up with the notorious Paris Collage Collective for creative challenge 42. We are supplying our dripping white roses as seen above for the collective's weekly brief. Want to take part? Click here. In true Beyond Photography fashion, we wanted to know more about Petra Zehner, the person behind Paris Collage Collective, and her art so continue scrolling for our interview with the artist.
"Please tell us about you and your collective."
I’m a German-born graphic designer and currently a collage artist, for lack of a better word, living in Paris. My first love was, and still is, words and literature – I studied literature and linguistics in Berlin, but having lived a little bit all over the place for many years, visual communication has become maybe not more but as important.
I’ve done a lot of photography in the past, and I’m not sure what I got bored with first, the act of taking photos itself, or taking photos in and of Paris – a sacrilegious thing to say, I know but bored I did get, which is where my love of collage started.
I was looking to be more deliberate about the kind of photos I took, and at the same time to find ways to spend more time with a single picture. At a time when we are so inundated with images, when it seems like everything has been done already, and when even the most spectacular images don’t hold your attention for more than a few seconds, I was trying to find a way to slow down and focus on a single image.
"Using Collage to slow down and work with a select few images is a brilliant idea, Photography can often feel so fast, easier to move on. What made you start Paris Collage Collective?"
I started PCC as a way to connect with other collage artists as collage was at that time still a relatively new medium or art form for me. I had done other collaborations before, on a much smaller scale, and mainly with photographers and writers, back when people still had blogs. For many years I had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Instagram because it was too image focused and not wordy enough for my taste. Also very superficial depending on what you do and share. But there are also a lot of exciting art projects and collectives out there. And rather than just joining one of those, I decided to create something myself.
"For all Instagram's faults, it is a brilliant way to connect with like minded people, and that's exactly what PCC does. Tell us more about your process with Collage."
My own collage is a mix between mixed media and digital collage techniques and often, but not always, a mixture of old and new. I use found vintage paper, old comics, book pages, letters or just scraps of paper, start working with them manually, then scan the results and start adding photographic elements, with found photos as well as my own own, in Photoshop. There is a fierce debate if something that hasn’t been cut with a scalpel or scissors is really a collage or something else altogether, but personally I have neither the patience nor subsequently the fine motor skills for nor do I see the point in limiting myself to analogue work.
"Agreed, utilising digital can expand the work you can create in Collage vastly!"
It’s the 21st century after all, and in the same way as there is room for both film and digital photography, there is room for both analogue and digital collage, or a mix of both. I also like working in series, using the same visual elements over and over in different contexts. Collage art has always focused on context to communicate ideas, so our visually incredibly prolific and oversaturated world has become a collage in many ways that people often aren’t even aware of. Collage helps me to explore these ideas.
"How has social media changed the artist collective?"
The same way it has changed every other social interaction I suppose. It’s one the one hand easier, quicker and cheaper to connect and collaborate, but the other hand more superficial. Any type of relationship takes time to build, and real investment that goes further than likes and shares. And while there is some of that going on in PCC, the relationship building, it’s not at all the same as a collective where people meet in real life. That said, online collectives are a great way to get to know each other and to find likeminded people. It can also be a safe place to start out and share your first works of art in a supportive environment, ask for advice and find encouragement. Social media has a bad rep when it comes to online harassment and bullying, but I find that most artist communities on Instagram are very positive places.
"Artist recognise that supporting other artists is extremely important for the community as a whole! But Collage feels like an especially supportive online space, why is Collage so important?"
I’m not sure it’s more important than any other form of creative expression. Creativity in itself is important for plenty of reasons… Collage is however a very good entry into artistic as in visual expression and it’s very democratic in a way. Or it can be.
"I love that, please elaborate."
You need next to no specific skills and no fancy or expensive materials. Some old magazines and clue sticks are enough. You can even go without scissors or scalpels. After that it comes down to what your personal philosophy on art is. If you differentiate between art with and without a capital A. I personally believe that art and creativity are human needs, there are quite a few PCC ‘members’ who are trained art therapists and use collage in their work with patients, so I love collage for its low entry threshold.
Tell us about the Paris art scene and how collage fits into that scene?"
The Paris art scene focuses very much on established art and artists. Lots of big name expositions in museums. The fashion scene is in love with contemporary art and there are lots of interesting collaborations, a lot of which is unfortunately not accessible for normal people. And even small galleries show lesser known but relatively safe artist that are bound to have some success. I don’t feel that there are a lot places that take risks. They exist of course, but they are harder to find than in other equally established cities like London or Berlin. But that’s Paris. If you want to see really new and exciting stuff, you go elsewhere. There is a bit of an overlap between the street art and collage scene but because most street artists are very mobile it’s not more than in other European cities. Collage art events and exhibitions do happen but on a much, much smaller scale, either as side projects during other art events or organised privately in small venues.
"How do you choose your weekly image?"
Above all else they need to be copyright free, so it’s often vintage images where the copyright has expired, photos from stock image websites [usually Unsplash], or collaborations with photographers who ‘donate’ one of their images. After that, I choose images that speak to me and that I would work with myself. Sometimes it’s the feel of an image, sometimes it’s a purely practical decision, because there is something with a perfect outline in it, so easy to cut out. It’s very subjective.