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Surrealism in Art and Photography

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 3172 words Published: 11th Jul 2018

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A fundamental problem for fine art photographers is to distinguish themselves from this morras of photographic folklore, somehow to separate themselves from all these common men who know how to make pictures with cameras, and to convince us all that what they do is “special.” (Christopherson, 1974) The aim of this rationale is to situate my professional practice within the historical and theoretical contexts explored during my university studies. This essay will deal with establishing the fact that fashion photography does not have to be just about fashion by emphasizing the art in my pieces and consequently creating fine art photography. The first part of this analysis will examine the nature of photography which has become the medium of my practice. Second part consists of consequent research on fashion photography and sequent analysis and discussion. In order to link it with art, the background of Surrealism will be briefly outlined. The final analysis will consider key features of my practice. Can be a fashion photography considered as a true art form? What theories, quotations or articles are in agreement with this subject matter? What are characteristics of art photography?

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Research has shown that photography was born in eighteen thirty nine and is regarded as everyday medium that communicates concept visually. Roland Barthes (1980) defined photograph as aid which help us to be informed about the world. Furthermore, one should not forget the Susan Sontag’s theory – take pictures as you travel – what suggests that collecting the photographs means collecting the world. (Susan Sonntag, 1977) Charles Baudelaire (1859) suggests that photography depict the stupidity of masses, whereas P.H. Emerson claimed that “photography was an independent and potentially great art from capable of expressing thoughts and emotions beyond the scope of the other and older art forms.” (P.H. Emerson, 1975) In agreement with Emerson, this contemporary medium embodies the way of expressing ideas, expressing myself within my practice.” Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas. It is a creative art “. (Ansell Adams, 1952) The question whether photography can be considered as an art has been discussed especially in sixties and seventies. It has been found out that in nineteen sixty eight was born the relationship between photography and art. In a Grunderg’s opinion, it has all started when photographers regarded photography as an art form and simultaneously artists have accepted camera in their practice. (Grundberg, 1987) On the one hand, there were artists who thought that camera is repressing imagination. On the other hand, some of them believe photograph is purely metaphoric. In agreement with the second statement, it has been found out that photographs symbolize the metaphor for artist’s experience. In other words, it serves the purpose of visualizing artist’s ideas. In a view of these facts, it is quite likely that if the art is about self-expression than the photograph which is used for expressing emotions, ideas or attitudes, must be regarded as an art form. The first person in history who wrote about photography as art was P.H. Emerson, British photographer and writer. He preferred aesthetic and emotional side of the image rather than the subject. Perhaps we should point out the fact that between nineteen seventy and nineteen ninety photographs has been equipollent with other contemporary arts. Which art movement has affected the development of a photograph and is also significant within my practice? It has been Surrealism, art movement that came into being in nineteen twenty four in Paris with leader Andre Breton. It may be true that surrealist group was the most controversial but on the other hand their expressions were positive and optimistic.

To explore the voice of their inner selves, they focus on imagination, mysticism, dreams and mediation. This “unreal” art movement and photograph as a medium of realism seem to be totally different. Man Ray, American artist who has been considered as representative surrealist photographer had been interested in photography because of personal development. His theory which suggests that photography emphasizes visual sphere between forms is could be in agreement with considering photography as art form. He has also contributed by invention of photographic technique of solarisation. Although it may be true that Surrealism has had impact on a photograph, the most crucial point made so far is that it has significantly inspirited the development and nature of fashion photography. It would be unfair not to mention the fact that Man Ray’s surreal photographs breathed new life into fashion photography. What is the nature of fashion photography and what is its connection with art? History of fashion is connected with photos by Baron Adolph de Meyer who published them in nineteen nine for magazine Vogue; however the relationship between art and fashion is recognized from renaissance. Anne Hollander (1994) claimed that fashion is art because it is capable of creating complete figural images psychologically real and modern. She also states that as artists turn to fashion, cloth designer turn to the fine art in order to explore the connection between fine and applied art, a sense of pure form and a sense of design to use. In a book entitled ´Fashion Theory´, Rosetta Brookes makes the point that “You could say a painting is designed to go on the wall, but if it was made as fresco, where it was part of the wall, would you say it was not art because it was practical?” (Rosetta Brookes, 1992) The question whether fashion can be consider as art is questionable and criticised, however these arguments seem to confirm that idea. “Fashion does not have to be something people wear, fashion is also an image.” (Viktor and Rolf, 1999)

Some critics suggest that fashion photography is just about depicting garments or models without any context behind it. It is questionable whether all kinds of fashion photographs are the same, or if there are artists whose images are portraying art with strong artistic context behind it. In this case it is important to highlight and analyse work of surrealist fashion photographers and related theories of critics. Rosetta Brookes (1992) has stated that fashion photographers have to capture the moment where the real world reproduced itself. She wrote on fashion photographer Helmut Newton that his fashion images are embodied in the dualism o the world itself. Judith Clarke (1998) discussed work of surrealist fashion photographer Erwin Blumenfeld who obviously removed fashion photograph from commercial form to its origins art. To support mentioned arguments it is worth stating that “Metaphor and meaning of fashion were at the heart of surrealist visual language.” (Richard Martin, 1987) It has also been found out that fashion represents for surrealist escape from ordinary to extraordinary. The radical change within fashion photography happened when Adolf de Meyer add shimmer into his images which embodied artistic photographs. This approach has removed the presentation of garment. Consequently it has evoked expressing of emotions. Martin Mukacsi (1933), Hungarian photographer who has transformed the course of fashion photograph when he blurred his photograph. The aim of photograph was to influence woman and let her apply it on her life. According to Roland Barthes (1983), three fashion styles exist. While the first one is objective, second one is more romantic with dream-like elements. The last one is represented as caricature. In agreement with Barthes, all of these specific fashion styles signified unreal. On reflection, it seems more accurate to say that there are lots of facts and theories underpinning the subject matter. The fact, that photograph is medium appropriate for expressing ideas and that for artists influenced by surrealism it embodies the escape from reality, is important statement not only for the subject matter but also for my professional practice.

What are the features of Surrealism and other key aspects which are essential within the context of my work? The first thing that needs to be said is work of surrealists consist of dream-like elements. Additionally, the lecture on psychoanalysis let me to research Sigmund Freud and subsequently his book Interpretation of Dreams. In this book he suggests that all dreams derive from our experience and that is the reason why they are reproduced in our dreams. He is also describing the connection between content of dreams and waking life where he suggests that waking thoughts appear in dreams only when they are pushed to one side by thinking activity of the day. (Sigmund Freud, 1913) It is important to add that elements of dream-like representations are abounding in paintings of David Schell. Within my practice, there has been noticeable interest in interpretation of dreams in general. To illustrate this point, here are some examples of dream quotations that have inspirited my creating. “There is nothing like a dream to create the future.” (Victor Hugo, 1802-1885) “To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream: not only plan, but also believe.” (Anatole France, 1884-1924) “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one, I hope someday you will join us, and the world will live as one.” (John Lennon, 1940-1980) Another characteristic feature of surrealistic movement is unreal fantasy world. At this point is necessary to emphasize the influence of theorist Jean Baudrillard and his book called Simulacra and Simulations. Basically, he negates the reality as we usually understand it and suggest that world we live in have been replaced by simulations of the real-a copy world. According to Baudrillard, the false reality of Disneyland is presented as imaginary to make people believe all surroundings are real.

The best example to understand the theory is watching the news on television of two people having an accident. He states that experience of the man and woman who were directly involved with the affair are the only ones to experience the reality and to anyone else it is just simulation. (Jean Baudrillard, 1981) Inspirited by his theory, the subject of my work is to create the hyper real world for viewers while acting in my photograph – experiencing the real world. In other words, the subject of my work which may not be noticeable is to take the viewer beyond reality. The argument being put forward here is similar to quote of Bert P. Krages (2005) “Knowing abut your subject is useful even if that knowledge does not seem to relate directly to the visual aspects of what you are trying to photograph.” It worth stating at this point that there is another aspect of my work emerging. It is a well-known fact that the woman as an object has been representing by many artists, especially surrealists and fashion photographers. Women embodied muse for artists as Man Ray or Edgar Degas. Research has shown that Edgar Degas was French impressionist who is celebrated as the master of drawing the human figure in motion. His favourite theme was women who were captured in their activities. Man Ray also found his motivation in women and is best-known for his avant-garde photography. His images provide the viewer far more differences than similarities of original model. Besides these artists it is essential to mention the influence of lecture called Human Body in Painting and Photograph where this subject has been discussed and analysed. After two years of creating, this subject matter within my practice has been transformed into performance.

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Performance art came into being in nineteen sixty in United States and has been representing visual artists. By nineteen seventy it was already acknowledged as global term and regarded as art. There is plenty of performance artists therefore it is compulsory to focus on artist with the greatest impact. It has been Marina Abramovic who is regarded as grandmother of performance and also Jemima Stehli who creates self-portraits by using a mirror. However, the most influential artist in addition to this topic is Cindy Sherman. Her personality has had important impact on photography as well as on my own self-directed practice. Her personality is celebrated as one of the most influential and respected American photographers in the twentieth century. Using designer cloths she was trying to point out contemporary problems of modern age and investigate ideas and images of female in media, society and nature of the conception of art. Andrew Sargus Klein (2006) claimed that Sherman endeavour to erase the notion of the voyeuristic photographer- instead, the observer is the viewer. Although some critics believe that her images are just self-portraits, however her quotation is in disagreement with this statement “I am trying to make other people recognize something of themselves rather than me.” (Cindy Sherman, 1982) Patty Chang (2000) states that performance art and photography are opposites, but both define a non-ordinary space by establishing parameters on it- a space that depends on the observer to make it come alive. To conclude this part, it is myself performing in my photographs. The aim is not to present myself, but to present my ideas through photographic medium. The performance feature provides me the sense of freedom in what I do and what I want to depict. It symbolizes the pure pleasure of playing, acting by using my body as non-commercial silhouette. The purpose of the performance element is to express myself, my ideas and be the one who is manipulating the viewer and who is trying to communicate with audience. However, influenced by Cindy Sherman’s thinking, the endeavour of my work is not to recognize something about myself, but to let people discover something about them. Not only has performance art originated in nineteen sixty, but also Psychedelic art. It is undeniable that hallucinations, illusions and imagination illustrate key features of surrealists. Edmund Critchley (1987) suggests that hallucinations are obvious in psychical illnesses but can also be experienced by normal people and became source of inspiration for art.

It is generally known that Salvador Dali, the most surrealist from other surrealists, has applied in his art making hallucinatory features what caused the fact that his art was difficult to understand. Not only hallucinatory features are important for my practice, but also illusions and imagination. According to Edmund Critchely (1987) illusions, the conscious and unconscious of the form of stimuli provide much of unexpected in art. An alternative approach might be quotation of Sigmund Freud (1927) “Illusions commented themselves to us because they save us pain and allow us enjoy pleasure instead. We must therefore accept it without complaint when they sometimes collide with a bit of reality against which they are dashed to pieces.” Apart from hallucinations and illusions, imagination is also important within the subject matter and my practice. It is a well-known fact that surrealist’s style uses visual imagery from subconscious mind to create art without the intention of logical comprehensibility. An alternative explanation might be that they have rather used their imagination. We would even go so far as to say that Albert Einstein’s (1879-1955) quotation “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere”- in other words, imagination is more important than knowledge- is in agreement with this argument. To sum up information stated above, the purpose of using hallucinatory feature and illusions is simple- the aim is to offer a pleasure to viewer and experience something scrupulously honest. As mentioned above, psychedelic art came into being in nineteen sixty and represents attitudes of underground sub-culture. Steven Heller (2010) claimed that psychedelic art “€¦was language used as a code for a revolutionary generation.” The features of this art are mainly bright vivid colours and surreal sense which have been manifested within art, fashion and music. The most essential fact contextualizing my practice is using contrasting beautiful colours for purpose of transporting the viewer into fantasy world. In addition to colours, colour theory and specific psychological meaning of single colour. It has been found out that colour is sensed by eye, however the perception of it takes place in mind and it serves sense of illusion and distance. By using different shades and tones at different images, the purpose of the colour is to evoke emotion while looking at piece of work. Therefore I agree with quotation of Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) “Colours, like features, follow the changes of the emotions.” Which other features are significant for surrealistic creating? In addition to illusion, it has been found out that many surrealist but also fashion photographers have used mirrors or mirror effects in order to mystify the viewer. My early influence originated from pieces of Gilbert and George, contemporary controversial artists. The effect of mirroring is result of digital manipulation of the image. Works of the most contemporary fashion photographer, David LaChapelle has astonished me because of undetectable manipulation. He is also applying surreal feature and narrative within his creating. However, the digital manipulation is not the only aspect within existing process of my works. Firstly, there is a need of finding a place which seems appropriate and first of all, interesting. Most of the time, damaged and messy localities are investigating in order to use their complex composition when creating unreal world and transforming them into fantasy landscape. Important fact to highlight is that the place is never staged; however it is always in its natural-found condition. Secondly, the appropriate dress, accessories, entire appearance, pose and mood have to be chosen. Finally, there is another aspect of composing the eventual shoot and also managing the right angels and camera settings. With the help of tripod or an assistant is the picture taken and consequently edited. Although the picture is taken, it is not the end of a process at all. Certainly, it can be said that my work is process based. The other side of the coin is, however, that it can also be argued that it is based on digital manipulation of an image. Nevertheless, the manipulation consists of changing colours slightly and sometimes it consists of the use of mirror effect. These arguments suggest that the work is processed based where the digital manipulation of image is becoming a part of the process.


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