Surrealism and Documentary

I looked at the work of the photographers that were mentioned in the reader and at some photographs of Max Pinckers. I am very interested in this type of photography, the ‘tension between reality and fiction’, the use of reality in such a way that is seems surreal and triggers a certain subconscious feeling with the viewer.

The photographs of the FSA and Mass Observation already triggered questions whether documentary photography should be staged or not and in which way the vision or motives of the photographer is conveyed through the work. The photographers mentioned here take reality a step further. With the use of existing visual lines, subjects etcetera, they are able to recreate an alternative reality, making it possible for the viewer to open up their interpretation of reality and bring a deeper understanding of the images.

‘Sur’ means ‘over’, ‘above’ and ‘beyond’. Surreality is everything above and beyond the reality that we see and experience. The idea is to go beyond that, whether visually or through the ideas that are conveyed. In looking at the images of the artists suggested I found the following characteristics that work into establishing this effect:

Key Characteristics

  • Interplay of shadows and light. Shadows function as a defining compositional tool, opening up the insight into the reality outside of the frame, or adding a visual element to what’s in the frame, highlighting aspects that otherwise would not have been noticed.
  • subjects are exotic, strange, speak to the senses.
  • Use of symmetry, formal compositional rules in such a way that the image seems to be a bit ‘off’.
  • Use of mirrors, veils, masks and double exposures, which adds a sense of mystery and displacement to the image.
  • Scene and subject are intimately interwoven, bringing an other meaning to the subjects.
André Kertész (American, born Hungary, 1894 – 1985) (Getty museum) (no date) Available at: (Accessed: 27 January 2017).
Iturbide, G. (2017) Juchitan – amber. Available at: (Accessed: 27 January 2017).
My Brussels: Photographer Max Pinckers (2015) Available at: (Accessed: 27 January 2017).
Photographic psychology: Image and psyche (no date) Available at: (Accessed: 27 January 2017).

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