Project 3: Thinking about the Surreal

“Surreal photography would be more about creating a world or image which goes beyond the physical world as we know it. It usually shows something which would be impossible in real life or tampers with the line defining what is real and what is imaginary. Surreal = beyond the real.” (Shalora, 2010[1])

The above definition appears to be a good starting point in defining surreal photography. It seems as though that such images can be as simple as juxtaposing two or more things that don’t normally get seen together or by representing something with an established form differently. This encompasses the photomontages of the New Realists like El Lissitzky’s photomontages through to contemporary artists like Erwin Wurm challenging the notions of what things looks like (link).

I suppose the edges of surreal are where it no longer challenges us to make sense of our perceptions. So for example, where it moves into fully abstract form or where we can read a narrative into it. Thus Gregory Crewdson isn’t classed as a surreal photographer whereas much of Man Ray’s work is.

Disability and surrealism are quite closely associated in photography. The edges seem to be with the Freak Photography by people like Diane Arbus’ Masked Woman in a Wheelchair[2] but I don’t class that as surreal. It is where the Arbus image of the freak is taken over the line of reality and into the imagination in images like those by Joel Peter Witkin (link) Duane Michals (link) that surrealism begins.

I want to represent this feeling of being out of place visually. It’s different from hostility – nothing like the way I represented that in Ramps! (link) This is much more akin to anomie and feeling apart and out of place. In addition, given that much of the kit I use is not well known to most people taking it out of its normal environment and placing in one that doesn’t make sense might evoke their looking harder and trying to understand what they are seeing, better. Below is the type of image I am thinking about.

Project 3 finals (2 of 7)

Of course it is am image of a tray, plate and eating utensils. Yet the “food” is made of bits of kit I use to manage incontinence. While I like this image because it works well as a commentary and aesthetically I am not sure there is a series in the approach though.

What does the image evoke in you?


[1] Kas-D, DeviantArt 2010 What is Surreal Photography [online] [Accessed 06/10/2014]

[2] D Arbus Masked Woman In A Wheelchair Diane Arbus (1970) in D Arbus, Diane Arbus An Aperture Monograph, Published by Aperture 1972 (2012 edn) illus.


About Pete

South Londoner struggling with life, art and photography.
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