Photography in the Service of Surrealism

Photography’s relationship with reality renders it difficult to extrapolate the medium to Surrealist art, which relies on the unconscious for artistic inspiration.  Andre Breton, the poet who conceptualized and lead the movement, believed that true creativity was handicapped by the limitation of the real. “Photography is an imprint of transfer of the real: it is a photochemically processed trace causally connected to the thing in the world…Technically and semiologically speaking, drawing and paintings are icons, while photographs are indexes” (Krauss 2).  However, Man Ray’s influence as a photographer undermines the notion that a photograph is merely a record that falls short of an art form.  Through the manipulation of the medium, Man Ray generated some of the greatest work of the Surrealist period. Thus, one cannot dismiss the artistic agency that goes along with the process.  The paradoxical nature of surrealist photography is rooted in the paradigm of reality as representation.  At this point in history, Saussure’s discourse on semiotics bled into the intellect of the art world.  Reality was to be understood as a composite of semiotic signs that can be read. In fact, ‘surreality’ is defined as a ‘kind of writing’.  Photographs, in capturing ‘reality’, reveals itself as a ‘signifier of signification’, evidence of the semiotic experience innate to life.


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