THE Atlas Gallery in London unleashes the creative power of the unconscious in a new show which explores how avant-garde photographers responded to Surrealism. The exhibition, which opens this week, traces the history of the iconic movement through five decades beginning with its launch in Paris in the 1920s by poet, André Breton.
The Psychic Lens: Surrealism and the camera displays almost 50 works by well-known photographers which include Man Ray, Florence Henri and Bill Brandt and work by lesser known artists such as Franz Roh and Vaclav Zykmund. Their work also reveals a diverse range of skills comprising photo-montage, double exposures, solarisation and combination printing.
The Surrealists sought to uncover the unconscious mind and merge it with reality. They created dream-like imagery by lifting objects from their familiar contexts and re-positioning them in unlikely groupings. The Japanese photographer, Toshiko Okanoue, started making photo collages as a fashion student at Bunk Gakim College during the 1950s. After the Second World War, Japanese goods were in short supply and many were imported from abroad.
Cutting scraps from fashion magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, Okanoue began to create imaginative compositions arranged from body parts, animals and architectural elements. Although having no knowledge of Surrealism at the time, she realised later that, “Without being aware of it, I have planned such delicate nuances of a woman’s heart and sown seeds of such sentiments into my works.”
Influenced by Constructivism and Cubism, the American artist Florence Henri experimented with mirrors to add greater perspective to her imagery. She overlaid reflections in shop windows and made photo-montages from photographic clippings of classical architecture. She explained
“Volumes, lines, shadows and light have to obey my will and say what I want them to say. This happens under the strict control of composition, since I do not pretend to explain the world nor to explain my thoughts.”
Apart from distorting perspective and the size of objects, Surrealist photographers sometimes used words in their imagery. The German magazine cover designed by Dutch photographer, César Domela-Niewenhuis depicts a giant signpost of painted text looming above the sprawling Port of Hamburg to reveal a cluttered scene of cranes, building and steamships parts.
by Miranda Charalambous
The exhibition, The Psychic Lens: Surrealism and the camera runs from November 24 to January 28, 2017 at Atlas Gallery, 49 Dorset Street, Marylebone, London W1U 7NF
Telephone: +44 207 224 4192
Front page image: Ruths-Speicher, photomontage, 1928 by César Domela-Niewenhuis © 2014 César
Domela/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris