Surrealism, Surrealist Photographic Technique

*The Pinhole Camera*

Simplicity at its most basic. With the increasing focus within photography on technological advances in digital cameras and computers it is easy to get carried away and forget how a photographic image is created. There is no need for a lens just a light proof box with a pin hole opening that allows light to hit a sheet of film.

Without technology there is unpredictability, inconsistency and contradiction. This lack of control therefore means the photographer can never be sure how the final image will look. The pinhole image has a certain mysterious dream like quality that at times can be difficult to comprehend. It tends to suggest the form of objects by viewing the world more ruthlessly than the human eye – challenging the traditional ways of seeing. Since exposures are long the pinhole stands still observing while everything around it carries on regardless, objects can become blurred, take on a different shape or can be omitted from the scene completely.

The pinhole camera can be compared to allowing a tape recorder to record at the side of your bed as you sleep while played back in the morning instead of the silence you expected you hear unfamiliar sounds and voices.

*Solarization (Sabattier effect)*

Although not credited the first to discover Solarization, Man Ray and Lee Miller are likely to be the two photographers most associated with the method and can be said to have ‘rediscovered’ the technique around 1930. Solarization is the result of shining light onto a developing photograph in the darkroom. The effect is a selective reversal of highlights and shadows where parts of the image are positive while other parts are negative and this can cause a distinct line along the edges of areas where reversal has occurred. It can produce dramatic effects of light and dark. It has been recorded that Lee Miller discovered the effect by accident after “something crawled” across her foot in the darkroom and she quickly turned on the light to find out what it was and thus accidentally exposed the film she was developing to the light.


Created without a camera, a photogram is made by placing an object directly onto or holding it above light sensitive paper in a darkroom and then exposing it to light. This type of picture exists as a single original as there is no negative.

Man Ray used this technique in many of his images and called them Rayographs. Like the pinhole camera the final image is unexpected and effectively object(s) take on a new unique ambiguous form.


Photomontage consists of combining several photographs together for each print. It is an ideal method for unifying unrelated elements producing images that have a dream like quality. There are a number of ways in which this can be achieved. (1) Either by cutting (preferably with a scalpel) subjects/objects from the final prints (and/or magazines) and pasting them together onto a suitable background. The finished montage can be photographed or scanned if required. This method can also be carried out digitally by scanning the negatives and combining them in photoshop using layer masks and the paintbrush tool.

(2) Images can be combined In the darkroom by sandwiching negatives together in a single printing exposure. This method works best if each subject is photographed against a black background. Or alternatively using several enlargers each with a different negative placed under the lamp. The photographic paper is sequentially moved from one enlarger to the next, “burning in” and “dodging out” the light wherever it needs to be manipulated. The paper is then processed to create a one of a kind original print.

*Cliché verre (glass negative)*

A photographic print is made from a design drawn on a glass negative. Usually an artist scratched a drawing onto a coated glass plate that was then contact-printed onto sensitised paper.

*Double (or Multiple) Exposure*

A film negative that has two (or more) separate images in the same frame. The photographer takes one photograph, then focuses on another object and takes a second photograph without forwarding the film. The extra light from the second exposure causes a ghostlike appearance in the first image. Therefore two (or more) unrelated elements are fused together and since neither is completely solid the final print gives the impression that it is a scene taken out of a dream.