Ian Walker

Ian Walker was, until his retirement in 2013, Professor of the History of Photography at the University of South Wales. He now works as a writer and artist based mainly in London. He is the author of three books on documentary photography and surrealism, including, in 2002, City Gorged with Dreams, which analyzed the relationship between the two in interwar Paris. He has also published many shorter writings on this and related subjects. Full details can be found on his website: ianwalkerphoto.com.

E.L.T. Mesens and the Art of Picture Editing

E.L.T. Mesens is a hard figure to pin down: Dadaist turned Surrealist, poet, collagist, magazine editor, gallery manager, gadfly and organizer. I will concentrate here on his work as picture editor of Variétés, but we will also need to place that in a broader context. As photographic magazines grew in the 1920s, there developed innovations in the juxtaposition of pictures on the page, providing meaning beyond that of the individual image. This was most advanced in Germany, and one journal in particular, Der Querschnitt, was a direct influence on Variétés. The ‘collage principle’ informed much of Mesens’ work and we can see it in the way he juxtaposed photographs in Variétés. I will look here especially at his use of the work of Eugène Atget. I will also consider his later work on the London Bulletin, where he was sometimes able to employ layout in similar ways. Because Mesens did not take his own photographs and his role was often anonymous, it is too easy to ignore it. But, in fact, picture layout and juxtaposition is a crucial weapon in giving photographs meaning. In the inherent subversiveness of that action, the Surrealist principles of Mesens show through.