From February 27 to May 24, 2010, the Fotomuseum Winterthur
is presenting the exhibition The Subversion of Images - Surrealism, Photography, and Film, an extraordinarily rich survey of Surrealist photography. The exhibition comprises over 400 photographs, films, and documents: from very famous photographs by Man Ray, Hans Bellmer, Claude Cahun, Raoul Ubac, Jacques-André Boiffard, and Maurice Tabard to unknown pictures, to magazine publications, artists books, advertisements, to fascinating raw, found documents, to photo booth photographs, and group portraits of the Surrealists. The exhibition also offers an opportunity to discover lesser-known photographic works by Paul Eluard, André Breton, Antonin Artaud, or George Hugnet, photographic games by Leo Malet or figures such as Artür Harfaux or Benjamin Fondane. More than twenty years after the last major review of the subject, Lamour fou - Photography & Surrealism (1985) by Rosalind Krauss and Jane Livingstone, the exhibition The Subversion of Images - Surrealism, Photography, and Film extensively demonstrates and discusses the openness, diversity, and innovation with which the Surrealists employed photography.
The formal language of Surrealism has long since found its way into everyday life via fashion, advertising, and the media. Today the term Surrealism brings together everything that appears magical, dream-like, and incomprehensible. It is often forgotten that the Surrealists were artists and writers who worked very incisively toward changing the world and gaining self-knowledge and who also reflected critically on social-political questions. The surrealist avant-garde considered itself to be a revolutionary countermovement to the bourgeois system of values. Through new imagery, they investigated existence during the interwar period, a time of great social and political instability, and they deconstructed received ways of seeing and thinking through various artistic strategies. Photography seemed to best fulfill the Surrealists needs as their medium of choice.
The first part of the exhibition, Laction collective, shows how unity was created in the Surrealists through photography, how much they constructed their common identity by breaking the rules of photographic group portraits. From amateur sketches on eroticism in the style of Sade to absurd theater, Le théâtre sans raison, the second part, investigates how the Surrealists used the medium of photography to record improvised or carefully staged situations, which nonetheless were invariably created for the lens. Part three scrutinizes the value of photography for documenting facts, its capability to capture manifestations of encounters with the marvelous during aimless urban wanderings. La table de montage outlines the various techniques used for connecting images: photomontage, cadavres exquis, Cubomania, scrapbooks, film montage, synoptic images, and so on. Le modèle intérieur deals with the way Surrealist photographers formally and thematically translated the ideas that Breton had designated as paradigmatic of Surrealist creation. Photography also served to satisfy the Surrealists voyeurism, formally expressed through the double motion of cutting and focusing as well as through the copious employment of close-ups. Anatomie de limage takes inventory of the various techniques developed by the photographers associated with the Surrealist movement in order to invert photographic realism and thus produce a particular imagery for Surrealism. Finally Du bon usage du surréalisme shows how much Surrealist photographers have contributed to disseminating the Surrealist spirit to the public through their work in the advertising, fashion, and publishing industries.
The title Subversion of Images, given to a photo series by Paul Nougé by the Belgian Surrealist Marcel Mariën, is intended to inspire reflection. For the Surrealists, the challenge was certainly to overthrow images, and in this way to alter forms of representation. Yet it is equally - and perhaps even more so - about overthrowing through images, confusing the existing conditions of reality. Over time the true revolutions, Breton wrote, will be carried out through the power of images.