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A2 LEVEL PHOTOGRAPHY I have always been amazed at the way an ordinary observer lends so much more credence and attaches so much more importance to waking events than to those occurring in dreams... Man... is above all the plaything of his memory. AndrĂŠ Breton

Unit 3: The Personal Investigation Surrealism Introduction

known of the photographers who were engaged in and/or influenced by Surrealism in This unit is designed to the thirties and beyond. Other introduce A2 level photographers and artists photography students to the who used photography in key ideas of the Surrealists their practice and were and to challenge them to influenced by Surrealism create appropriate include Max Ernst, Claude photographic responses. In his essay "Surrealist Situation Cahun, Georges Hugnet, Hans Bellmer, Frederick of the Object" (1935) AndrĂŠ Sommer, Clarence John Breton remarks on the way that photography had affected Laughlin, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Brassai, Bill the development of painting Brandt, Henri Cartierand how, "unable to engage Bresson, Dora Maar, Manuel in the seemingly futile Alvarez Bravo, Mari Mahr, struggle with photography, painting was forced to retreat Francesca Woodman, Erwin and reorganize its ranks in an Murm and Duane Michals. According to Walter invulnerable position, under Benjamin, photography offers the necessity of visually to consciousness modes of expressing internal reality that would remain in perception". the unconscious without its Man Ray is perhaps the best action:


"It is through photography that we discover the existence of this optical unconscious, just as we discover the instinctual unconscious through psychoanalysis".


Ideas & Activities Students will be encouraged to explore a variety of approaches, techniques, genres and individual styles in this unit. They may include: •

Games. The Surrealists attempted to embrace the laws of chance in their creation of art works. Invent a Surrealist game using photography E.g. The Exquisite Corpse

Keep a dream diary. Use notes made in the diary to stimulate a series of images.

Night photographs based on a study of Brassai’s Paris at Night. Explore the hidden/secret city. Consider technical issues such as tone, shadows, artificial light, ambient lighting and flash, long shutter speeds etc.

Involuntary Sculptures. Look at the photographs made by Brassai of mundane objects transformed. Consider camera angle, depth of field, scale, dramatic lighting etc.

Graffiti. Look carefully at Brassai’s images of graffiti. Construct your own study of contemporary graffiti along similar lines.

Text and Image. The Surrealists were fascinated by the relationship between words and images. Explore this theme with reference to one or more key works of at/texts

Experiments in the darkroom. Negatives, solarisation, Rayographs, Decalcomania, mirrors, prisms and lots more besides. The surrealists were drawn to the magic of the darkroom.

Taboo. Breaking rules and defying conventions was a Surrealist pastime. Create one or more images which explore this idea.


Automatism & Appropriation. Explore the role of automatic writing in Surrealism. Make a collage and/or poem using found images/text. Invent a system to incorporate chance into the process of selecting images/text.

Surreal Self-Portraits. Several Surrealists adopted alter egos as part of their work, changing gender, adopting disguises and questioning the nature of identity. Make your own Surreal SelfPortraits exploring a range of strategies.

One Minute Sculptures. Explore the work of Erwin Wurm and his ‘one minute sculptures’. Consider the role of performance in Surrealism and the ways in which they questioned the nature of artistic genres (see also Brassai’s ‘Involuntary Sculptures’)

Photomontage using found images from a variety of sources, exploring the idea of chance associations.

13 Clues to a fictitious crime based on the work of the same name by Mari Mahr. Look at sequencing of images, staged imagery, composition, narrative etc.

Photo Sequences. Explore the work of Duane Michals and the creation of photographic narratives. How could you represent a dream story in a sequence of photographs?

The Body. How did the Surrealists present the human body? In what ways can the body be transformed by photography?

Trespassing on the private. Take a sequence of photographs of people eating, sleeping, reading which explore the nature of private thoughts/activities.

The Inner Eye. Take a series of photographs wearing a blindfold or looking in the opposite direction.

Literary sources. Surrealism was as much a literary movement as it was about the visual arts. What kind of literature did they celebrate? How can photography represent the ideas in poetry, fairy tales and surrealist novels?

Assemblage. The chance, poetic association of different objects and materials is a theme popular with the Surrealists. Construct an assemblage, featuring photographic images, which explores this idea.

Observation and surveillance. Watching, spying, following, observing. These apparently voyeuristic preoccupations appear in the work of several Surrealists.


The vice named surrealism is the immoderate and impassioned use of the stupefacient image or rather of the uncontrolled provocation of the image for its own sake and for the element of unpredictable perturbation and of metamorphosis which it introduces into the domain of representation; for each image on each occasion forces you to revise the entire Universe. LOUIS ARAGON, Paris Peasant

Resources There are several texts in the sixth form photography room and reference library which are directly relevant to this topic: L’Amour Fou – Photography and Surrealism (Abbeville Press, 1985) Surrealism – Desire Unbound (Princeton University Press, 2001) Man Ray Photographs (Thames and Hudson, 2001) Une Semaine De Bonte: A Surrealistic Novel in Collage by Max Ernst (Dover Publication, 1976) Between Ourselves – The Photographs of Mari Mahr (Serpent’s Tale, 1994) Mari Mahr – Isolated Incidents (The Photographers’ Gallery, 1989) Erwin Wurm (The Photographers’ Gallery, 2001) Brandt (Thames and Hudson, 1999) Francesca Woodman (Scalo, 1998) Haunter of Ruins - The Photography of Clarence John Laughlin (Bullfinch, 1997) Brassai Graffiti (Flammarion, 2002) Brassai – No Ordinary Eyes (Thames and Hudson, 2000) The Essential Duane Michals by Marco Livingstone (Bullfinch, 1997)

In addition, the library has monographs and catalogues featuring a wide range of photographers and artists whose work is relevant to this theme.


Unit 3 personal investigation surrealism  

A quick guide to Unit 3: The Personal Investigation for the A2 photography course at Thomas Tallis School

Unit 3 personal investigation surrealism  

A quick guide to Unit 3: The Personal Investigation for the A2 photography course at Thomas Tallis School