John Stezaker has made collages, often using stills from film magazines from the 1940s and 1950s, throughout his career as an artist. This one comes from his latest exhibition Double Shadow at the Approach Gallery in London. He doesn’t always identify the silhouettes in his cutouts, but here the actor with the white-gloved hands on the deck rail has a name – Celeste Holm, the 1947 Oscar winner for her role in Elia Kazan’s Gentleman’s Agreement.
Our guest editor, Jarvis Cocker, has been a fan of these coolly unsettling images – “I love them” – since Stezaker taught him on the film course at St Martin’s School of Art (Stezaker mostly remembers Cocker for his slightly patchy attendance record at his tutorials, as his music career began to take off).
The pair of them share a kind of nostalgic fascination with the times into which they were born. “I often think of the world of these pictures as a parental world,” Stezaker, who was born in 1949, says. “The contours of male and female in the 40s and 50s were very well defined. And of course, those preview magazines make a great deal of silhouette contours. Often, the film stars were photographed against preposterous blue-sky backdrops.”
Stezaker has been drawn again and again into finding ways to make those silhouettes dissolve or find new ways of interacting. It seems telling that his images mostly come from the pre-60s era. He wanted, he says, to find a way to shut out the “noise” of pop-art collage, trying instead to locate an intriguing stillness. Over the years, Stezaker has collected and unearthed the material for his pictures in boxes of postcards and magazines on market stalls and in junk shops. “But even so it always feels,” he says, “that the images find me, rather than me finding them.”