PE Abstract and Surreal: Introduction

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Introduction: Defining abstract and surreal

The term abstract comes from the Latin word abstrahere (to draw away) and refers to the concept of abstraction. In abstract art it means that the artists uses a visual language of form, color and line to create an image which is almost free from any references in the visual world. Related terms are nonfigurative art, nonobjective art and nonrepresentational art.

In abstract photography the actual subject doesn’t matter much – it’s not important what you see but how you see and feel a picture. This is why abstract artists often refuse to reveal the subject of their photographs or even the used technique. They prefer not to distract the viewer from the deeper concept of their artwork. However, a lot of abstract photographers choose meaningful titles which can make it easier to interpret the artwork.

There exist multiple approaches on explaining the causation of abstract artwork. According to Theodor W. Adorno, abstraction is a response to, and a reflection of, the growing abstraction of social relations. Post-Jungians would see the quantum theories with their disintegration of conventional ideas of form and matter as underlying the divorce of the concrete and the abstract in modern art. Others use the concept of abstraction to express personal thoughts or feelings.

The term surreal is a back-formation of surrealism which comes from the French words sur and realism. It has been defined as resembling a dream, fantastic and incongruous and features surprises, unexpected juxtapositions, and dreamlike or other-worldly scenes.

Surreal photography requires a concept and certain technical skills, because a photo always depicts a real subject at first. Common techniques for getting a surreal photo are intentional camera movement, double exposures, longtime exposures, infrared filters, but also flipping or mirroring an image.


The cultural movement of surrealism developed out of the Dada movement during World War I and bases on the Surrealist Manifesto by André Breton:

    Dictionary: Surrealism, n. Pure psychic automatism, by which one proposes to express, either verbally, in writing, or by any other manner, the real functioning of thought. Dictation of thought in the absence of all control exercised by reason, outside of all aesthetic and moral preoccupation.

    Encyclopedia: Surrealism. Philosophy. Surrealism is based on the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of previously neglected associations, in the omnipotence of dream, in the disinterested play of thought. It tends to ruin once and for all other psychic mechanisms and to substitute itself for them in solving all the principal problems of life.

projecteducate’s Abstract & Surreal Week will give you an understanding of the idea behind abstract and surreal photography, will bring you lots of themed features of abstract and surreal artwork and also several enlightening and inspiring interviews with extraordinary artists.

Stay tuned for more!

(This article contains material from Wikipedia… and from the Deutsche Gesellschaft für abstrakte Fotografie (German Society for Abstract Photography)… (German only).

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Urus-28's avatar
Do you know if there is a book about abstract photography ? I've searched several time but it seems that nothing exist on the subject... :|