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Nathaniel Whitcomb Gif

How to create a moving collage

Artist Nathaniel Whitcomb animates static collages using old National Geographic magazines

"Art, I believe, is articulated proof of otherworldly exploration – being able to share the unobservable. The methodology of scientist and artist are one and the same; they just have different subjects of fascination."

Nathaniel Whitcomb's adoration for collage began in his twelfth year with an x-acto knife and an apprenticeship at his father's sign manufacturing company. Meticulously cutting away at vinyl alphabets, Whitcomb became cut happy and joined up at his university laboratory to dissect human cadavers. After uni, Whitcomb, possessing both Biology and Studio Art degrees, decided that wasn't quite enough. So he taught himself design and coding and began creating immersive extracted poetry and projection collages. Surreal landscapes of archival imagery, gleaned from the yellowed pages of abandoned National Geographic magazines, float and warp and explore dream, memory and myth, all in equal measure.


Whitcomb's restructures narratives, crafting collages to undo "the crumbling of our cultural imagination, due to our mindless consumption". Whitcomb re-contextualises images to create new narratives. "Literally, the world is at your fingertips, and you have the ability to reshape it and to meddle with it, in order to view it differently. Most collage artists are dissatisfied with certain aspects of culture. Dadaists held a mirror to the absurdity of a world at war. Surrealists were fed up with a mindset unwilling to look beyond concrete reality. We work hard to build new worlds from pieces that already exist, hopefully showing others that it can be done, and that it's worth the effort."


Archival imagery is used extensively throughout Whitcomb's work. As these images don't trigger any memories or associations for Whitcomb, it ensures an unbound creative process. "Images that pre-date me more readily become malleable characters waiting to take on a new identity – provided, of course, that I remain ignorant of their context." Whitcomb purposely sources obscure images so audiences "are less likely to have true to fact notions of these works," he says. "Memory is a wide open landscape for the imagination to run wild in, often warping the memory itself in the process. Exploring that ever-shifting space can be great fun."


Synaesthesia – that neurological experience in which people hear colour, see sound, understand taste through touch – is another recurrent thread within Whitcomb’s collages, an attempt to evolve beyond the constraints of print. "I don’t think I have synaesthesia," he admits, "it is, however, an ideal that I try to convey, more so in my motion work, or work that has a musical component." Whitcomb's admiration of ambient and experimental music also factors into his work. "It rarely has any agenda other than being transportive," he says, "but when I close my eyes while listening, worlds do typically open up. Many of the motion collages I've made in the past are attempts to visualise the space that music unlocks, while 'Stadiums & Shrines', my online collaboration with Dave Sutton, is another manifestation of that desire to experience sound more viscerally."


National Geographic magazine in many ways predates formalised globalisation, appearing decades before the rise of the internet. Technology's evolution may have allowed for easier access of images previously reserved for the fortunate few, but for Whitcomb, the wonder of gazing over old dog-eared and battered National Geographic issues is a cherished experience. "When National Geographic first began sharing stories and photographs from far off corners of the world in 1888, they were blowing people’s minds with news of exotic cultures outside of their own," he says. "I think one reason I use old National Geographic issues is that it has that spirit of sharing discovery inherent in the source."

Whitcomb's collages, using scores of NG photographs from the 60s and 70s, attempt to reverse complacency by restoring forgotten images of wonder. "Nearly anything is within reach, so people don't have to dream as deeply. With collage, when I use photographs of places that exist and recombine them into a new landscape, it creates a world outside of our physical ability to visit. The new place can only be viewed. It takes an effort on the part of the viewer; if they want to enter it, they have to dream again."


Recurring explorations of the universality of human experience would suggest a great love of humanity on Whitcomb's part. And amongst the many catalysts that inspire his imagery, environmentalism remains the most significant. "It stems from a reverence for nature, from which we came. I'm in awe of it and respect it. Sadly, I don't think many people feel that way anymore. We've come to rely upon man-made environments, and seem to become upset with natural forces when they don't go our way. I feel lucky to be a part of this amazing system of life; privileged even to experience it – good and bad. I hope that this love for all things natural comes through in my work and that others will look to find it along their own path. It's a joy to watch and see what comes of it."

More of Nathaniel Whitcomb’s work can be viewed at