At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, a movement emerged that is now firmly established in the history books as surrealism. Thought, literature, art, and music broke with their traditions, and artists found new ways of expression. In addition to Dadaism, Italian Giorgio de Chirico, with his metaphysical painting, influenced an entire generation of artists from which came some of the greatest names in art history.
Seeing with eyes closed
Dreamlike, unconscious, absurd, and fantastic—these are the core characteristics of surrealism. For Chirico, it’s all about the things he sees with his eyes closed. The result is that the art form goes beyond realism and often disturbingly disrupts familiar image worlds. Through the processing of psychoanalytical theories, the viewer should be able to gain new insights, especially in paintings and films.
Andre Breton’s philosophy included the view that there is no objective external reality. A new way of thinking and the sociopolitical changes which society longed for at the end of the First World War could, therefore, only emerge if surrealist artists invented a new language, a new visual concept. Perception should be spontaneous and free from prejudices. The artists of surrealism achieved this perception through uncontrolled creative processes, which were helped by switching off consciousness either during sleep or with narcotics. This led primarily to distorted representation, a combination of impossible things and states that transcended reality.
Surrealism in modern photography
The heyday of surrealism was long ago, and yet the characteristics of this significant epoch creep into the works of modern artists time and again. The component of defamiliarization is, through the tools of digital photography and modern image processing, a frequently used style device: subtle, but present. Surrealism has wound down in popularity, but it still exists. It has assumed a much smaller character, far less pompous than the archetypes of the great painters and yet as expressive as ever. An example of surrealism photography is provided by Petra Stockhausen; her Hommage à Magritte is a remarkable submission. Of course, the Creative Department couldn’t help but prick up their ears and ask how this production came about. Petra reported to us in the following:
A man with a melon and a woman with a broom
I’ve had it in the back of my mind for quite some time to photograph an Homage à Magritte and thought the next time I was in Tuscany I’d start with it. There are these wonderful cypress avenues that are perfectly suited to my ideas. When we visited friends in Tuscany last summer, the first motifs—the cutout in the newspaper, for example—were created.
The whole thing was so much fun for me that I decided to make a longer series out of it. I wanted to think a little more like a surrealist, and in the process, separate myself clearly from the archetype. When I’m finding motifs, I always have different concepts in mind. In this case, terms such as identity, individuality, reflection, self-reflection, dream images, playing with dream and reality, flexibility, and, of course, fun and irony are used to refer to some surrealism themes.
I only continued the series half a year later when we traveled over the Atlas Mountains into the Sahara. This decision paid off because I just love the desert as the backdrop for this series! A man with a melon and a woman with a broom (to sweep away our footprints) headed out into the desert.
On-site inspiration: a spontaneous perception
I always have some motifs firmly in my mind, but some also result from the landscape or the location. The pure reduction to the form by the sand waves in front of the bright blue sky inspired me on site to let the model follow these forms with his posture. Likewise with the tree so wonderfully deformed by the wind.
The idea that I would like to use a round mirror as a prop in the series came to me in Marrakech. In the souks, there are many dealers who sell mirrors, but all with ornate frames. A young dealer said to me: “No problem, what do you need? I’ll get you one, I’ll be back in 20 minutes. Please watch my shop for me,” he said, and then got on a bike and was gone, leaving me alone in his shop. It was Moroccan 20 minutes, in reality far more than an hour, but it was a very exciting change of perspective for me! I also would not have thought that I would be a dealer in a Moroccan souk, but unfortunately, I didn’t sell anything.
Unfortunately, one motif which I had firmly in my head we couldn’t implement exactly. As a child, you could always hang down so beautifully from a monkey bar. So I imagined it would work this way with a tree. The model should hang upside down while reading a book. Because a branch which should hold an adult man must be much thicker than a high monkey bar … unfortunately, this just doesn’t work. You can’t hold yourself there, and I’m very happy that we first tested it 40 centimeters above the ground, not at a height of 4 meters.
Fortunately, the model was still able to breathe when I wrapped him with a blue cord, so luckily everything went well!
I’m just not sure if my surrealistic phase is over yet. 🙂
Visual language with historical pizzazz
Our Creative Department welcomes Petra’s surrealistic phase with open arms. Sometimes historical tradition can also provide a fresh creative breeze. We are always very happy with picture ideas that occur outside contemporary concepts and are 100% sure that these pictures also have a good home with us, because the creativity of our photographers is our DNA.