Surrealism and Colour Documentary

Following up on what I had researched about surrealism in Part 2, I had a look at photographers whose style is surrealistic and who use color, adding an extra layer to their composition and overall effect of the photograph. Even though colors in the photograph add an extra element of realism to the scene, the way the photographers mentioned in the reader use it actually enforce the surrealist and uneasy feelings that the images bring about.

I was especially triggered by the work of Cristobal Hara. In an interview he explains how when he moved to Spain in the seventies, after growing up abroad, he realized that there was a cultural void and inferiority complex in the art scene of dictatorial Spain. He decided to photograph Spain in the visual language of Spain. He wanted to construct images that tell more than they show and that is when he began working with color.

I watched the video ‘Un pais imaginary’, where we see a combination of video and stills taken in rural Spain, that show a mixture of religious, sexual and horse breeding practices which together amplify the cruelty and craziness of human beings. Hara edits his footage in such way that faith, love and care for animals are completely stripped off, bringing the raw emotions and drives to the surface that to me trigger shame and disgust.

It is in Hara’s choice of angle, subject matter and timing that evoke these feelings. The title of the video is ‘An imaginary country’, which shows that he is aware of the effect of his images. Is this a true depiction of the place and events he is portraying? Or is it worse than we could ever imagine? Or better than what we see?

Overal, I am really impressed with Hara’s work. I take away a new approach and technique in photographing that I would like to practice as well.

Peter Dench’s work falls under the same category of surrealist color photographers and he is also able to bring across a feeling of disgust and unease, maybe even stronger than Hara. Dench focuses on the drinking behavior of British at home and abroad, showing people passed out, throwing up and putting themselves in compromising situations. Whereas Hara’s work has quite a lot of humor to it, I find that Dench’s work mainly triggers feelings of disgust and petty for his subjects.

Dench’s approach is very different to Hara, but there are distinguished features that enforce the surrealistic elements in his photographs. His horizons are not straight, the use of patterns and repeating subject matter in different contexts, his choice of timing seems to be off, showing people in their most vulnerable moments, he connects subjects through composition that are otherwise disconnected, and his use of flash adds to the unforgiving atmosphere of his photographs.

Even though I find Hara’s images visually more interesting and beautiful, Dench is able to show a part of British society in a very confrontational way. He breaks through the barriers of class and location, which I find very refreshing and daring.

Hara, C. (2017) Un Pais Imaginario. Available at: (Accessed: 28 February 2017).
SevillaFotoTV (2010) Encuentro con Cristóbal Hara. Available at: (Accessed: 28 February 2017).

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