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Photograph - Humanly Impossible
  • Humanly Impossible
    Bayer, Herbert, born 1900 - died 1985
  • Enlarge image

Humanly Impossible

  • Object:

    Photograph

  • Place of origin:

    Berlin (photographed)

  • Date:

    1932 (made)
    1969 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Bayer, Herbert, born 1900 - died 1985 (photographer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Gelatin-silver print and photomontage

  • Credit Line:

    Acquired from Marlborough Fine Art, London in 1969.

  • Museum number:

    CIRC.651-1969

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F, case X, shelf 905

Herbert Bayer was one of the leading figures in the Bauhaus movement in Germany and throughout his career was a highly influential graphic designer and artist. Bayer produced some straight photographs, highlighting the abstract structures and sculptural qualities of things, but was never interested in the technical side of photography and so his exploration of straight photography was limited. He left the Bauhaus in 1928 and established himself as a leading designer. It was at this stage that he took and interest in photomontage. He was partly responsible for establishing photomontage as a key commercial visual style in the 1930s.

Physical description

Black and white photo montage of a man looking into the mirror, one hand on his head, the other hand holding a chunk of arm.

Place of Origin

Berlin (photographed)

Date

1932 (made)
1969 (made)

Artist/maker

Bayer, Herbert, born 1900 - died 1985 (photographer)

Materials and Techniques

Gelatin-silver print and photomontage

Marks and inscriptions

12/40 Bayer [signature] 32
Front of sheet below printed image

Dimensions

Length: 32.7 cm sheet, Width: 26 cm sheet

Historical context note

Herbert Bayer was one of the leading figures in the Bauhaus movement in Germany and throughout his career was a highly influential graphic designer and artist. Bayer began to experiment with photography while he was teaching advertising, typography and layout at the Bauhaus school in Dessau. He produced some straight photographs, highlighting the abstract structures and sculptural qualities of things, but was never interested in the technical side of photography and so his exploration of straight photography was limited. He left the Bauhaus in 1928 and established himself as a leading designer. It was at this stage that he took and interest in photomontage. He used the technique for his own artistic work but also in advertising work, where he was partly responsible for establishing photomontage as a key commercial visual style in the 1930s. His main body of photographic work was produced in the late 1920s and the 1930s, after which he continued to develop other areas of visual design.

Descriptive line

Photograph by Herbert Bayer, 'Humanly Impossible (Self-Portrait)', gelatin silver print, 1932

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Wood, Ghislaine, ed. Surreal Things. Surrealism and Design London : V&A Publications, 2007. 362 p. : col. Ill. ISBN: 978 1 85177 500 2 (HBK) 978 1 85177 501 9 (PBK)

Labels and date

Gallery 100, 2016-17:

Herbert Bayer (1900–85)
‘Humanly Impossible (Self-Portrait)’
From the series ‘Man and Dream’
1932

This photomontage reflects the humour of the Dada movement and the Surrealists’ interest in dreams. Bayer’s haunting self-portrait was made during a turbulent period during his life. The artist views his reflection with horror, as the sponge he holds morphs into a slice of marble that seems to be cut from his shoulder.

Gelatin silver print
Museum no. Circ.651-1969 []
Unspecified exhibition label:

'This was part of a picture story planned by Bayer but left uncompleted after 11 images were made. Bayer described the photomontage technique as: 'photos, cut out and reassembled, sometimes retouched and the finished montage re-photographed.' Bayer taught at the Bauhaus and revolutionised photography, graphic design and exhibition design.' []
[]
From exhibition 'Towards a Bigger Picture', 1987. Excerpt from longer joint label with Joseph Breitenbach's 'We New Yorkers':

Artists have historically been concerned with the physiognomy of the face and body as the clue to the content of tyhe mind. Here the fleeting, fluid succession of expression was regarded as an index of the intellect and emotion. Such investigation encompassed both the individual subject and the species as a whole. In Herbert Bayer's 'Self-Portrait' and Josef Breitenbach's 'We New Yorkers', we see this concern to look beyond appearances continued, yet inflected and transformed bya permissive modern aesthetic that sanctions the manipulation and distortion of observed reality so that artistic insight may be expressed.

Bayer's picture is a surrealistic parody of the high seriousness traditionally accorded the self-portrait. Here self-examination reveals nothing of the condition of the artistic mind, but only the discovery that the creator has become his creation, not flesh and blood but stone. Such images were intended to provoke the unconscious into a more active role in the economy of daily mental life, a role idealised as a superior consciousness by Andre Breton in the Surrealist Manifesto of 1924.
[1987]

Production Note

Attribution note: ‘Montage…is the combination of diverse photographic images to produce a new work. The combination is often achieved by re-photographing the mounted elements or by multiple darkroom exposures. In the finished work the actual physical edges become inconspicuous. The artistic result often tends towards the surreal rather than the abstract.’

Gordon Baldwin, Looking at Photographs, J. Paul Getty Museum, 1991

Materials

Photographic paper; Printer's ink; Paper

Techniques

Gelatin silver process; Technique

Subjects depicted

Arm (body part); Hands

Categories

Photographs; Prints

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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