Before there was Photoshop:

Photomontage, the combining of two or more negatives, can be traced back to the 1850s.

Curator Martin Krause aptly writes: “Photomonteurs have the capacity for stacking one truth upon another, of seeing beyond sight and making seen, and, once done, of truly creating a thing that is to be believed.”

Scott Mutter, Surrational Images, 1992

The artist in his own words:

From the very beginning, I tried to make images that people would find accessible and exciting. Art is no idle thing; people want to see something and be held in wonder.

We come from beyond,

and we go from whence we came,

courting the hands of time.

We are bound by nothing

so much as our imagination.


Son of a son of a son of a farmer.

I’ve watched the clock come to dominate my life

and each morning, like Jonah, I climb into the whale.

Its power transforms me for better or worse.


The Library” : This combination of images gives form to an abstract idea: that a culture and what it produces are made possible by and are reflective of the knowledge that underlies that culture. Beneath the city streets are the card catalogs of knowledge – of science, legal systems, mathematics, behavior, social organization, architecture – that are indispensable for supporting the entire top section in all its material and nonmaterial processes. The pillars that appear among the catalogs allude to and emphasize the idea that knowledge does indeed hold up our cities, our nation, our society. If we were not able to store and retrieve this information we would relinquish our knowledge of all we have learned.

Note, too, the similarity of shapes and structures of the upper and lower levels. The card catalogs resemble the buildings above, and the drawers resemble the countless windows of those buildings. Both levels are based on compartmentalization of function.

I chose the main library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for the bottom portion of this image because of the twenty-odd years I was enrolled at Illinois and the countless hours I spent in the library.

Untitled (Train)” : Snow blowing across the front of the train. It’s a train. It’s not a train. It’s a metaphor for industrialized society. It’s on a track, headed for a predetermined end. It’s a large piece of machinery. Each time I stand on the train I think, My goodness this is so large. The experience feels new almost every time.

The people in this image are in lockstep with each other on their way to being transported to their destinations. They walk at a slight angle to the tracks; but they could be the tracks themselves.

A fair number of people refer to my imagery as surreal, and I understand the tendency to use this term. The reference has less to do with surrealism per se than with the general feeling that the images do not represent material reality but instead evoke a certain feeling of Other. I must point out, however, that the word “surreal’ hides one important – maybe the most important – aspect of my work: namely, the rationality in those images. There is a feeling of rightness in the combinations, a tendency to nod to the truth of them, making the images not surreal but surrational. The elements generally have such an affinity for each other, in a structural and a conceptual way, that their assemblage seems to echo – or perhaps even prove the existence of – a phenomenon that we sense reflects some truth. The potential power of montage lies in the combustion of its fusing or colliding elements, resulting in the emergence of an idea or the origin of things that come to us from the past, things that are usually asleep within us but can be visualized, understood, and communicated to someone else. I try to approach photomontage as a conscientious process, and if the individual elements resonate correctly, a feeling, an awakening will be produced. I attempt to make images that are accessible and accepted once seen and are capable of turning the glance into a gaze.

~ Scott Mutter