Returning to surrealism

As a photographer who tends to hop from one genre to another (see previous post on genres), it’s not uncommon for me to forget about some ideas or inspiration then come back to them when they resurface. I’ve tried a few different ways to organise thoughts over the years to try not to lose anything good, including notebooks etc but the one that’s actually proven most useful was Google keep. I think this is largely because I can’t misplace it and I tend to get ideas at random times, so having a physical notebook that isn’t always with me never worked out (although the idea of a nicely bound collection of ideas is appealing). But returning to the topic at hand, I recently saw a few things that reminded me about the surrealism genre, one of the early things I dabbled in and it prompted my to go back and look in my ‘keep’ to see if I had any undeveloped ideas, which I did have. So I decided to realise some of those ideas, to varying degrees of success…

Looking back at my Google Keep page was quite interesting, I’d not used it for a long time and not only had I left some interesting photography ideas in there, but also interesting ideas full stop (holiday destinations, useful websites etc). But really, it was the photography ideas that caught my attention, mostly because they were ideas for more abstract, surreal shots, which was something that I haven’t done for quite some time. What was really interesting though is that looking at these almost immediately made me want to try some as well as gave me a few more ideas. The first of which I wanted to try was the raindrops shot, which I go into a bit more depth on here on the blog, but also on my channel. I enjoyed that process, I could take my time, it was something I could work on in the evening once the kids were asleep and that meant I could fit it in around daily life, not something that can be done as easily with other genres. That was then the moment I thought I really should get back into this particular style of photography, I just had to address the one frustration of the raindrops shot which was space. Doing this in my garage was a bit challenging as I was constantly tripping over/around stuff, so along came a long overdue clear-out of the garage giving me a small amount of space to work with.

Back to Google Keep, this is actually quite a good tool for this sort of note tracking, it’s always with me (via phone), syncs across any device I use and allows sketches/pictures to be attached. I’ll probably start using it more for some video projects too as you can create checklists which are incredibly helpful for keeping track of what shots are done. Below is a screenshot of part of my Keep, where you can see some sketches and how they can be embedded into a note.

The next idea I wanted to tackle was a simpler setup than the raindrops shot, which was the nutcracker picture at the beginning of the post. A nice and simple idea from a lighting perspective (single flash + snoot), with the biggest challenge being getting the nutcracker to stand up on it’s own. And that highlights one of the things I quite like about this genre of photography, the idea for the frame can be simple on the surface, but there’s a complexity beneath that makes you think. Whether that’s complexity in the form of a visual metaphor, sometimes obvious sometimes not, or complexity in the creation of the image, again sometimes obvious sometimes not. There’s often a lot of hidden detail or effort in these images that get crafted over time, finessed and refined to make sure that the objects in the frame do what they’re there to do. Now that’s true for nearly all photography, but what makes this particularly different is the ability to alter the subject physically in a way you cannot or should not for other types of photography (matter of opinion). Now I know I’m bordering on a possibly contentious topic, as the altering (in real-life or digital) of subjects divides opinion, but what I want to talk about is within this genre and it’s more clear cut status. So the best thing is to give some examples of what I mean.

The image above of the mountainous food arrangement has some details in the capture that are not apparent when you first look at the image. The visual metaphor is obvious, but there were some technical refinements needed to make that image which will not come across. First is in the toast, in order to get the right angle and separation of the slices of toast from the light (and create the edge highlights) I recessed the back edges of the toast at the right thickness so they interlocked, giving the desired look. Secondly the beans, which come out the can with too much sauce, so I drained them and added the ‘right’ amount back in. The the third example is getting the right size of egg white to yolk, so I made a few eggs with a different white:yolk ratio to get what I was after (a tasty process in this case).

Another example is the image below of boiled eggs and glasses. This image again took some refinement in getting the eggs right. In order to cut them cleanly I ended up soaking them in vinegar to soften the shell, as well as oiling the knife to help get the clean cut I needed. I had tried other methods, but this is what worked the best.

I think this is what I’ve really enjoyed about revisiting this genre, there’s a hidden layer of creativity, technicality and design that’s not present in many other genres. Maybe I’m a control freak, but the attention to detail appeals, and I think that control you have not only makes it something that people should at least try out, but also something that makes it accessible. These shots are created with everyday objects, can be done with rudimentary lighting (I’ve used things like desk lamps in the past) and don’t necessarily need much space. This allows the ideas to be as creative as you want, and even simple ideas can be technically challenging (and so fun) to try out.

I’m certainly going to try out a few more ideas and will put them up on my instagram as I do them.

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