Window of Surprises: Photographic Surrealism

Ahmanson Building, Level 2
April 24, 2011–August 7, 2011

During the 1920s through the 1940s, photography affected and was in turn affected by a revolution in perception and consciousness. Concepts of space and time were altered by new technologies: automobiles and airplanes, radio and wireless. Man appeared to be liberated from gravity as well as geography. The camera became a conduit between self and world.

In the midst of these historic shifts, poet André Breton published hisManifesto of Surrealism in 1924, helping to define a movement. The surrealists saw the forces of reason blocking access to the unconscious and the imagination. They attempted to tap into the creative powers of the unconscious, setting artists on a path through the territory of dreams and chance. The resultant imagery captured moments of psychic intensity in provocative forms.

Photography came to occupy a central role in surrealist activity because of its innate facility to fabricate highly subjective images. In the works of Man Ray and Maurice Tabard, techniques including double exposure and solarization dramatically evoked the union of dream and reality. Other photographers used rotation or distortion to render their images uncanny. Streetscapes depicted the city as a dream capital, an urban labyrinth of memory and desire. Filtered through the prism of surrealist sensibility, any object or prosaic moment might be dislodged from its traditional context and irreverently assigned a new role.

Image: Werner Rohde, Germany, 1906–1990, Dressmaker's Dummy, 1928, Gelatin silver print, The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin.