Friday, May 26, 2017


Not everyone is crazy about Salvador Dalí; about surrealism. But, we can see a piece of art, not understand or connect with it, but still appreciate its value. For example, I don't like some of Salvador Dalí's art, but I definitely appreciate his creativity and the imagination that went into creating those pieces.

Let's start with an operational definition, so we can all be on the same plane. When it comes to surrealism, we may find any or all of the following characteristics in a painting or photo- graphic image:

*The juxtaposition of things, elements, objects we don't normally associate with each other
*Element of surprise, or even shock
*Word association anomalies
*Mind bending

Check out this painting by Dalí himself. How many of the above characteristics do you see?

As an art major in college, surrealism made an impression on me. That impression eventually caught up with my photography. I can't help but see life around me and notice how much surrealism there is! Some is already there--I just need to see it; some quickly jumps out at me; some of it I have to create from what my imagination sees. I'll start with this example. I include this in my new book, RIGHT BRAIN PHOTOGRAPHY.   

I talk about this in my book. Stay with me. 

I was in New Orleans. I saw this pantomime across the street. He quickly grabbed my attention. I took a few shots, but there was something missing. I turned around and there was an artist painting old southern theme paintings, like post-slavery blacks picking cotton in the south. That too grabbed my attention. I asked the artist politely if I could photograph one of her paintings on shale, to which she kindly obliged. 

My idea was to superimposed the street performer over one of the artist's paintings, through in-camera double exposure. I photographed her painting horizontally, the photographed him vertically. This is where my imagination took me--the end result. If you look at the image below this one, you can see the artist's painting on a piece of shale.  

Can you see the share croppers picking cotton, their living quarters, and cotton?

Fish in the water, a tiger, a waterfall, and windows--not items we normally expect to see in the same scene. Leaving myself totally open to anything really helped to see this image. There was an aquarium, in the Denver Aquarium. built under an enclosure that housed two tigers. At this angle, it looks a composite of two totally different images.It looks odd, weird, different, and....well, surreal. 


I am extremely familiar and fond of the famous painting American Gothic. But this?
I saw this giant sculpture in Chicago. Instead of a barn in the background, there are skyscrapers behind the farming couple!! Say what? The original sculpture was huge, about two stories high, but I cropped it in camera in order to match the original painting. She's looking at him as if saying, "Did we take the wrong turn George?" 

The materials from which the sculpture was made, contrasted against the materials of the skyscrapers, gives the scene a surprising feel. I could see where someone might think that  I photographed the couple, then photographed the building, then manipulated both images to look like this. No, it was just surrealism waiting for me.

If you're not familiar with American Gothic, the painting, go

I shared this one before in a previous blog when I talked about painting with light. I include it here because it is also surreal--you don't expect to see natural formations lit up. In case you missed my earlier blog, let me walk you through how I created this one.

First, it starts with the notion of "seeing with your imagination," which I talk about in my book. What I envisioned was to photograph Garden of The Gods in Colorado Springs, Colorado at night! Most people would ask, "Why?" This is why. It was 15-20 minutes after sunset. The sky was dark. I had to use flashlights for me and my assistant to see what we were doing. I use simple large off-road emergency flashlights.

I created this in three steps: 1) I always determine my composition first. 2) I set my camera on BULB, at an f/stop of f/16. 3) I told my assistant, "I'm going to walk down this path and paint the pathway. Tell me when you can't see the light anymore." He did. I then walked back and stood near my camera. When it's that dark (believe me, it was dark!), the sensor does not register/record dark object movements. 4) With my camera shutter still open (set on BULB), I then "painted" the formation on the left, carefully outlining the side of it. I then asked my assistant to release the shutter. 

The total exposure time was two minutes and ten seconds. My "painting" image creations range from twenty seconds to five minutes. You need time for the light painting to register on the sensor or film.  

Probably my most Dalí-ish technique is to photograph a subject, knowing in advance that I am going to display or show it "upside down." I have done this several times. Nobody has ever guessed that they're upside down. When I tell them, a common response is something like, "Oh my God!." When I saw the rocks in the lake portion of this scene, I knew it would look surreal upside down. 

Although this last example was created using the same technique as above, it's not as bizarre. Most folks just think I manipulated the image using some sort of filter in photo editing software. Nope. I just knew it was going to work "upside down." In order to make sure I got this effect, I used a fast shutter speed--1/320. 

The best way to appreciate surrealism in the photography genre is to think art, not photography. To do otherwise is to expect what we are used to seeing in our daily lives. 

So, go out there and explore, experiment, and take yourself out of your comfort zone. Don't think linear--have fun!

e-mail me if you would like more information on how I create surrealism through photography.