Week 11 – Surrealism and Photo Montage


One of the greatest things about photoshop and digital imaging is the ability to do photographic montage or composite in such an easy way. So, what do I mean by photomontage? In the most basic form, photomontage would be the ability to blend two images together. People have been doing this for years with film photography by doing double exposures. Some photographers were so skilled in the darkroom using enlargers that they were able to mask their negatives or their photo paper and create targeted, multiple exposures on the same print. The most notable of these photographers is Jerry Uelsmann. His amazing photographs depict impossible spaces and worlds created from multiple exposures and targeted masks all before digital photography had arrived. For me, the reason Uelsmann’s work stands above the digital creations done today, is that his images could not be thrown together quickly in minutes, his creations took a lot of time, planning and an incredibly exact darkroom technique. Jerry Uelsmann has a great website where you can see more of his prints Uelsmann.net

Jerry Uelsmann – click to enlarge


The tradition for these images goes back to painting and in Modern Art most notably to the Surrealists like Magritte, Ernst, Dali and DeChirico. The paintings of Magritte show us a world that cannot physically exist in real space, yet do exist in the two dimensional visual space of his work. These are psychological paintings that function in the realm of dreams, the unconscious or, that which is beneath the real, the surreal. Ironically, the birth of Modern Art and the art of Surrealism, Expressionism, and Impressionism coincided with the need of art to redefine in itself in the wake of the advent of Photography and the ability to capture realistic images like never before. Photography laid waste to art’s need to document reality faithfully and realistically. Why get a painted portrait when you could have a photographic portrait? Why paint a scene in history when photography could document it more faithfully? The result was that artists responded with new direction for art that drew more from the mind of the artist than the the world that was in front of their eyes.

 Magritte – Surrealism, click to enlarge

Magritte Magritte     ;

Today, Surrealism has been embraced by other facets of our visual cultural as well. We are exposed to the surreal in our photographic images too; aided in a large part by the proliferance of digital photography and the ability to manipulate images with Photoshop. Today advertising, commercials and magazines make such heavy use of digital montage, that art critics have noted that photography has lost its claim to truth and objectivity, in short, to that which made photography what it was. The objectiviity of the lens and the machine have given way to the science fiction fantasy of digital alchemy as Peter Plagens comments in Newsweek: http://www.newsweek.com/id/73349 . But is it, that photography has lost its way, or has it just evolved into a new art form like painting had done all those years before? Is it, that the advent of digital photography proves that photography never in fact held any ‘real’ claim to truth, but that the meaning of the image always has been mediated by history, culture, and language.

Example Digital Manipulations from the Web – Click to enlarge


Photoshopped Magazine Advertisements – click to enlarge


Student Work Samples – click to enlarge


Week 11 Assignment 1 – Create a Surrealistic Photo Montage

The work should combine 2 to 5 images into a single image.This project should access the surreal, things that can only happen in a subconscious reality. The images above are all examples of a dream reality created by image manipulation and montaging. What can you do with Photoshop? How can you show us the magic of photography to transform reality into dream? Create something that appears real, but yet surely cannot be… wow us!

Note: To create images like the ones above you need to be good at layer masks and making selections. You also need to know how to work with multiple transparent layers. I recommend watching the following Lynda.com video tutorials (see below), as well as my YouTube Danscourses video tutorials embedded at the bottom of this web page.

Lynda Tutorials you need to watch:

  • Chris Orwig – Photoshop CS3 Creative Photographic Techniques
    • 19 Composite Inspiration
      The Iceberg – Ralph Clevenger (must see!)
      Photoshop composite inspiration – Websites (must see!)
      Deconstructing a realistic composite Part 1 (must see!)
      Deconstructing a realistic composite Part 2 (must see!)
    • 20 Adding Shadows (Important: adding a shadow to an object you have dropped on to a layer really helps it blend in)
      Drop shadows and beyond (must see!)
        Blend modes and shadow tint
      Shadow point of contact
      Creating different versions

Turning it in:

Due Date: Next Sunday

Save your final image as a Photoshop file so you save all your layers and a high Resolution. Then reduce your image size and save your image as a JPG file. Post your final JPG to Picasa and the DansCourses Forum under the “Surrealistic Montage” category.

YouTube/DansCourses – A Silly Halloween Montage

Some of the Photoshop techniques I demonstrate in the video tutorials below can help you with the assignment above. I did this series of tutorials to coincide with Halloween during Photoshop in the Fall semester. They project in the tutorials is not at the level of excellence of some of the Photographers depicted above, but they cover some good techniques which can be used for lots and lots of fun, and that is important. Watch the 4th video first to get a sense of where I went with the project.

Author: Dan

Dan teaches computer networking and security classes at Central Oregon Community College.

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