The argument between what is and isn’t a photo continues after the Sydney-based photographer Demas Rusli reveals his before and after shots of surrealist photos. In a video that went viral on TikTok, Rusli let his followers in on a secret; he achieves his surreal images through editing. No real surprises there though one of his photos is of a road that runs vertically...
Surrealist photography challenges reality by exploring otherworldly concepts, changing perspectives and encapsulating the unusual. Born out of the First World War, surrealism presented a brand new challenge for photographers who had to find ways to create dream-like scenarios from real-world scenes. This new approach to photography demanded not only a very creative mind but the knowledge of different techniques such as double exposures, photomontage, and solarisation (opens in new tab).
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Early pioneers of the surrealist movement were photographers such as Man Ray, Florence Henri and Claude Cahun who explored themes of gender, and equality through collages and still life. Today surrealism is still a popular photographic genre but the digital age has made it a lot more achievable.
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Photographers like Demas Rusli now have photo editing software such as Adobe Photoshop CC (opens in new tab) that make creating mind-bending images not only a lot easier but so much more convincing. I often come across posts on my Instagram explore page where I have to stop and think about how real it is but if I like the image, ultimately I don’t care. I’m under no illusion that all photography is what meets the eye, regardless of whether it’s retouched portraits or mystical photo composites.
Whether a photograph is true to life doesn’t take away from whether the final image is effective. Any image that can inherit a reaction or make someone question their own concept of reality is a powerful one. Surrealist photography is an art form, not a form of documentation and with that, a whole world of editing opportunities is opened up. Being able to manipulate a photo in a way that doesn’t have boundaries adds, quite literally, adds a new dimension to photo editing.
If you have the skill and the patience to edit people out of photos and create an Instagram-worthy photo I’d say go for it – it might not be what came out of the camera but it’s your take on it. Should people have to clarify when they have edited a photo to resemble their vision? No – not unless it’s giving people unrealistic expectations as is the case with retouching and body morphing.
I too have been fooled by surrealist edits, I’ve seen Rusli’s photo of an airplane flying over apartment blocks before and wondered how he took that shot but isn’t that part of the beauty of it? The mystery is something we are drawn to and sometimes the best-kept secrets should maybe be kept that way - no matter how fascinating it is to see the before and after.