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If you want to make more interesting photos, make more surreal photos:


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Inspiration for surrealist photography imagery from Rene Magritte, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Sergio Larrain:

1. Cutoff limbs

1927, the beneficial promise by Rene Magritte.
1927, the beneficial promise by Rene Magritte.

In this painting by Rene Magritte (1927, the beneficial promise), note the surrealist technique of the woman on top of the frame looking left, and the hand in the foreground facing right.

I find this image so fascinating for many reasons.

First, the shape of the circular window around the woman’s head mirrors that of the (ball?) — (perhaps her own hand) in the foreground is touching.

Also the dynamic tension — the movement of her head looking left is dynamically opposed to the movement of the hand in the foreground.

Why is this image interesting?

As viewers we look at this image and it puzzles us:

  1. Who does the hand in the foreground belong to?
  2. Is the circle in the background and the woman —is it a mirror, or an opening?

The charm of this picture is the disorientation of the viewer in perspective, and the minimalist imagery (the woman’s face, the circle on top of the frame, the hand in foreground, and the ball).


My example that mirrors Magritte

Advertisement and my hand.
Advertisement and my hand.

When I saw this painting by Magritte, it reminded me of a picture I shot of a poster of a woman’s face, and my own hand.

Perhaps next time I shoot a similar photo, I should make my arm to the opposite direction from the face direction of the woman, for a more engaging image.


2. Teeth

Mark Cohen, teeth.

Cut out the faces, only show teeth.

Danny Kid with teeth. Saigon, 2017
Danny with teeth. Saigon, 2017

3. Boxes

One night museum, 1927 by Rene Magritte
One night museum, 1927 by Rene Magritte

Humans being trapped in boxes?

Try to make photos with your subjects in boxes, or use a simple box composition.

1927, Rene Magritte, The Reckless sleeper
1927, Rene Magritte, The Reckless sleeper
Henri Cartier Bresson. MEXICO. Natcho Aguirre. Santa Clara.1934.
Henri Cartier Bresson. MEXICO. Natcho Aguirre. Santa Clara.1934.

4. Discarded picture frames

1928, the delights of landscape by Rene Magritte
1928, the delights of landscape by Rene Magritte

Photograph picture frames — out of place.

5. Floating things

1959, the glass key by Magritte
1959, the glass key by Magritte

Photograph things floating above other things —to make surreal images.

A giant alien spaceship that has landed in Montana in Arrival, Denis Villeneuve’s film adaptation of a story by Ted Chiang

6. Things about to crush things

1960, The Postcard. Rene Magritte
1960, The Postcard. Rene Magritte

This is a good technique in street photography: photograph objects suspended above the head of your subject, and add a little bit of negative space.

Henri Cartier-Bresson. SWITZERLAND. 1991.
Henri Cartier-Bresson. SWITZERLAND. 1991.

7. Horizontal bodies suspended in space

1926, The Musings of the Solitary Walker. Rene Magritte
1926, The Musings of the Solitary Walker. Rene Magritte

Photograph some subjects lying horizontally, just like what a magician would do when their subject is lying in a box.

Idea: study more magic, and magicians, for surrealist imagery.

Henri Cartier-Bresson. ITALY. Friouli. Trieste. 1933.
Henri Cartier-Bresson. ITALY. Friouli. Trieste. 1933.

8. Leading lines and trees

1948, The lost jockey. Rene Magritte
1948, The lost jockey. Rene Magritte

Shoot with a sense of space and depth —by taking a step back, and showing more.

Henri Cartier-Bresson. FRANCE. Paris. The Palais Royal Gardens. 1959.
Henri Cartier-Bresson. FRANCE. Paris. The Palais Royal Gardens. 1959.
Henri Cartier-Bresson. FRANCE. Paris. The Tuileries Gardens. 1969.
Henri Cartier-Bresson. FRANCE. Paris. The Tuileries Gardens. 1969.

9. Curved frame in frame

FRANCE. Paris. Place de l’Etoile. Champs-Elysées. View from the Arch of Triumph. 1959.

What is real, and what isn’t?

10. Parasols (umbrellas)

Hegel’s Holiday, 1958. Rene Magritte
Hegel’s Holiday, 1958. Rene Magritte

Nothing better than photographing umbrellas for surrralist imagery.

Sergio Larrain. White Hall.
Sergio Larrain. White Hall.

Some of my umbrella photos:

Walking woman with umbrella. Seoul. 2009
Walking woman with umbrella. Seoul. 2009
Umbrella and Dutch angle. Tokyo, 2017
Umbrella and Dutch angle. Tokyo, 2017

Idea: shoot with a flash when it is raining through clear umbrellas for surrealist effects:

Flash umbrella street photograph with red and blue. Kyoto, 2017
Flash umbrella street photograph with red and blue. Kyoto, 2017
Purple umbrella on the floor with yellow sidewalk line.
Purple umbrella on the floor with yellow sidewalk line.

Some examples from the masters of photography:

Note how the arch and the arch of the umbrella mirror one another. Photograph by Josef Koudelka
Note how the arch and the arch of the umbrella mirror one another. Photograph by Josef Koudelka
Henri Cartier Bresson, looks like there are two people connected under the umbrella.
Henri Cartier Bresson, looks like there are two people connected under the umbrella.

Surrealist photographers to study:

Abstract: Henri Cartier Bresson Seville
Abstract: Henri Cartier Bresson Seville


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