Photo Story Feuilleton #4: Make The Surreal Look Real


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Some photos take your breath away. Even more than single photographs, a photo series can blow your mind. It can change the way you see things and it challenges photographers to create powerful stories that they want to share with the world. But how to create interesting photo series? As with art in general, there is no specific recipe or approach. However, when you overlook the photography field you’ll discover some basic angles that might inspire you to go beyond creating single photographs and come up with a true photo story. Starting point is to work with a concept. A second ingredient is to make sure that things happen on more than one layer.

In this feuilleton EAGER – platform for inspiring photo series, approaches the subject photo series from different angles inspiring you to make your very best photo series!  

This is the fourth angle of a series of six. Read the first angle, The Power of Repetition, here. The second angle, Time Flies, so Try to Catch It here and the third angle Connect Content and Form here, the fifth angle The Abstract Way is available here, and the last angle Catch Realityin Documentaries here.

Angle 4: Make The Surreal Look Real
A fun thing to do with photography is to show scenes that suggest stories that can never happen for real. It can either be used to illustrate a story in a fun way, or tell your own personal fantasy story. Goals of photographers can be either to show humorous scenes or to create confusion. In this angle we usually see photographers using photo editing tools to change their photographs. There is a narrow border between subtlety and over the top, so the challenge is to find a good balance.

Techniques that you can give a try are to add cartoon elements in your photos, changing the perspective of elements in your photos, or to put certain elements in rather illogical places. Another interesting means could be to combine several photographs in a series to suggest a sequence or reality that could never exist for real. 

Photographer Jason Lee creates an ongoing series where his two daughters are the main characters. Each photo in the series is a small story in itself. Lee takes a subject, interprets it in a rather literal way and makes it happen in one simple photograph that tells the whole story. The titles of the photos in the example are: ‘ready for liftoff’, ‘in one ear, out the other’ and ‘wash your mouth out’. Making photo series like this take a lot of preparations, photo-editing skills and creativity to come up with funny scenes. And when you watch the photos you see that Lee keeps the photos as simple as he can. No distracting elements or backgrounds, all items in the photos contribute to the result.

A totally different example is the work of Scarlett Hooft Graafland. She uses no photo editing at all. Her approach is to find some great landscape first. Then she uses items in her scenes that add a surrealistic sense to them. Her work takes a lot of organisation to get the items she wants in the places she needs them. And it’s a lot of trial and error to see what really works and what doesn’t. We find it quite impressive that she works until she finds the perfect images and does not use any photo manipulation tools whatsoever.


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