The first impression you get when you see surreal photography is “what the…” and then you observe the brilliant idea that’s behind it, the wonderful way of transforming into reality a person’s imagination. Knowing that these photographers have an incredible imagination, you can probably presume the result of their work. When looking at these photography’s the only thing you wonder is, how did this photographer make this happen? Is this Photoshop? It there any special effects added to this photography? Surrealism allows you to create things that are ordinarily only seen by your mind. It’s an excuse to get those ideas into action under the umbrella of the world of Surreal. It’s a great chance to let your eye see the things that you envision. There’s no right or wrong when it comes down to it because Surrealism is what you make it. Experiment with lighting, shadows, levels, backgrounds and movement to capture Surreal Photography at its finest.
Surreal photography, like surreal painting, depicts objects, people and landscapes in a non-rational or dream-like way. It is based on the 20th century philosophy of André Breton’s ‘La Révolution Surréaliste’ written in 1924. Surrealism started in Paris but spread throughout Europe, the US and Japan. Surrealism was made popular through painting but there were also many artists who created surreal photographs to express their philosophy. Some of the best known surreal photographers include Marcel Mariën (Belgian), Maurice Tabard (French), Man Ray (American), Lee Miller (American), and Paul Nougé (Belgian).
After doing some research for some surrealist photographers, the work of Jerry Uelsmann caught my attention. Someone had mentioned that “he is the master,” his work was done in a darkroom. Uelsmann was/is one of the best and he did his before Photoshop existed by using a very very complicated printing method of moving the paper from enlarger to enlarger with different negatives in each one. Today there are many that do this type of work, but he was the first to master it. Uelsmann’s photographs are not meant to depict a familiar place, but rather allow the viewer to transcend the frames and take them on a journey through the unfathomable. Through the picturesque representations of his subject matter, this becomes possible. Like the Pictorialist movement in the twentieth century, Uelsmann’s work played on big ideas, and because those ideas are so vague, the artist did not allow room for literal interpretation of his work, but rather left the interpretation to the subjective. Uelsmann believes that his work touches the viewer on a personal level and communicates his emotion better through the unimaginable settings that he creates. Formally, Uelsmann composes his work in black and white, with a vast complement of grays and mid-tones throughout. One of the defining characteristics of his work, however, is the stark contrasts seen throughout Uelsmann’s body of work. He contrasts the organic with the artificial in almost all of his work, and frequently includes the use of more than one focal point in his work. Placing eyes on walls, windows on trees, and shrubbery on the artificial are common elements within his work.
- What was the first thing you thought of when you looked at these pictures?
- Do you know any other surrealist photographers?
- If you could photograph something like this, what would you like to photograph?
Some Examples of Surrealism Photography
Video of how Jerry Uelsmann does his photography