The word collage is from the French. It literally means “pasting”, or “gluing”. The medium of collage is about gluing images and objects to a basic background. The word ‘collage’ is a noun which describes a composite picture. It is an abstract form of art. It can be made from any artistic medium. Pieces of paper, newspaper, cuttings, photographs, drawings and almost any form of abstract or textured additions. The “collage” is normally an arrangement of the pieces. However, it’s common for there to be no logic in placing them. A collage can be about the complete disarray of the images in the work. The layout is more artful than logical.
In terms of photography two entries appear in the Oxford English Dictionary about the term “collage”:
Before embarking on the making of a photomontage, it should be understood that the term refers to a photographic process entirely and not to the scissors-and-paste method (known as collage) practised by some in the name of photomontage.
J. Deschin “New Ways in Photography”; 1936
This shows the use of ‘collage’ to refer to a multi-image composite of photos is incorrect. A multi-image picture created by a photographic or digital process is a photomontage.
It appears, the definitive difference between collage and photomontage is the method of creation. This appears to be supported by a later quote too…
The technique of ‘collage’ would be improperly described as a photographic process.
Alan Pryce-Jones (editor) “The new outline of modern knowledge”; 1956
Collage vs. Photomontage
The term “collage” is historically incorrect with respect to photography. However, it is used in modern every day speech. This may be part of the evolution of language. Despite this, “collage” and “photomontage” come from separate processes. The methods of creation differ. The guide to correct use of the term “collage” lies in the preparation, content and organisation of the piece.
The collage is an artful, illogical, arrangement. There is little or no theme in the images used. The pictures in a collage are about art, texture, arrangement or pattern. Traditional collage uses cut or torn shapes, objects and pieces laid out for overall impact. The individual parts have no particular value in their own right.
The “photomontage” by comparison, is an arrangement of photos to show off a common theme in the images. The theme is normally presented in a logical way. The presentation of a photomontage can be artfully done. However, the use of graphic art is more appropriate than classic art. Remember, photos have a regular shape. In collage the pictures are cut or torn to fit the space. The use of shape influences the layout in a multiple-image picture. Photomontage tends to create a more organised presentation or the telling of a story.