Anne Darling Photography

Surreal Photography

Surreal photography was born out of the surrealist art movement in the early twentieth century based on the philosophy embodied in André Breton's 'La Révolution Surréaliste' of 1924.

From Paris, surrealism spread to the UK and throughout Europe, the USA and Japan. In surreal images, there is always an element of surprise as objects, people, landscapes are assembled in a way that is non-rational or dream-like.

Surrealism was popularised through painting in particular but there were also many surreal artists who created surreal photos to express their philosophy. Among them were:

Paul Nougé (Belgian, 1895 - 1967) was a friend of René Magritte, the famous Belgian surreal artist, and is considered a highly influential member of the Belgian surrealist movement. He was also a poet and theorist. He created 19 surreal photographs in 1929/1930 which were published in 1968 entitled 'Subversion of the Images'.

Nougé rejected the automatic writing of the surrealists to embrace "a psychology coloured by mysticism". His work is not as well known as Magritte's, perhaps because he was not interested in celebrity status. He believed that Surrealism was less a doctrine than an attitude.

Uninterested in celebrity or questions of literary identity, he was critical of the Parisian Surrealists, and his own work made little impact on France or Belgium at the time. His subsequent recognition is largely due to the efforts of fellow Surrealist Marcel Mariën, who edited and published much of Nougé's work.

marcel marien -  surreal photograph
The Empire of Othello
Photo by Marcel Mariën, Courtesy of Vintage Works

Marcel Mariën, (Belgian, 1920-1993) was a friend of Nougé's and a fellow surrealist, artist and photographer who did a lot to make Nougé's work better known. Mariën also wrote a monograph on Magritte with whom he was friends although their 25-year long friendship ended after Magritte failed to be amused by one of Mariën's many practical jokes. Mariën abandoned photography after some time and focused his efforts on drawing, writing and making objects. A year after his partner, Hedwige Benedix, died in 1982, Mariën returned to photography as his prime means of expression and produced some of his most extraordinary surrealist images during the forthcoming years.

Maurice Tabard (French, 1897-1984) experimented with techniques such as double exposures, composite photographs (photo montages) and solarisation techniques to create his surreal photographs. He also worked in fashion and advertising photography. Most of his work was lost during World War II. He was a friend of Magritte and the surrealist writer Phillipe Soupault (1897-1990).

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) always said he was primarily a painter but he is also known for his surreal photography and was listed as one of the 25 most influential artists of the 20th century by ARTnews magazine for his ground-breaking work in several fields including painting, sculpture, collage, assemblage and explorations into early performance art and conceptual art.

Right - Portrait of Man Ray, 1934: Photo by Carl van Vechten (1880-1964)

Man Ray's surreal photography also included 'Rayograms', photograms which are also sometimes called Rayographs. He was central to both the Dada movement and the surrealist movement. Man Ray said: "I paint what cannot be photographed, that which comes from the imagination or from dreams, or from an unconscious drive. I photograph the things that I do not wish to paint, the things which already have an existence."

Lee Miller (American, 1907-1977) was a fashion model, surrealist photographer and war correspondent. Miller was Man Ray's assistant and lover, with whom she rediscovered and perfected the photographic technique of solarisation (the solarisation technique was discovered in c.1859). She lived with Man Ray for three years at the height of the surrealist movement.

Left - Lee Miller: Portraits From A Life

Miller knew everyone and starred in Jean Cocteau's film 'Blood of a Poet' but soon moved to making pictures rather than being the subject. She was an active member of the surrealist movement and was friends with Picasso, Jean Cocteau and Joseph Cornell and many more such as Miró, Tàpies, Magritte and Charlie Chaplin). The surreal photography of Lee Miller depends less on manipulation and more on careful framing and clever camera angles.

Click the link to see amazing surreal photos by contemporary surreal photographers from around the world.

Also, check out my MY BLOG where I post my own surreal photos and photo manipulations.

And if you need free photos for your photo manipulations, check out the list of web sites that I have put together - you can find thousands of great photos, at no cost, so you can get started straight away!

Top of Page

This site is under construction! Major changes are taking place - apologies for any inconsistencies which I hope will all be sorted very soon. Thanks for your patience.

Improve Your Composition

cover of the art of photographic composition ebook

Be More Creative

cover of the creative guide to photography ebook