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Photography and surrealism
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What is a surrealist photograph·
time. In the +,:¡ Manifesto Breton vrites: ‘I believe in the
tuture resolution ot these tvo states, dream and reality,
vhich are seemingly so contradictory, into a kind ot
absolute reality, a surreality, it one may so speak.’
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Iouis Aragon also vrites near the end ot his book
Paris Peasant,
Peality is the apparent absence ot contradiction.
1he marvellous is the eruption ot contradiction vithin
the real.
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1hus a tusion ot dream and lite, reality and tantasy or
breaching ot the distinctions betveen them becomes
the ‘eruption ot contradiction’ and vhat delighted the
surrealists vas the disturbance created by the beauty ot
marvellous images.
1he problem vith any modern notion ot the marvel-
lous is that it is nov usually detned vithin the teld ot
literary theory as a specitc genre ot tantasy, distinguish-
able in 1zvetan 1odorov’s tripartite distinctions ot the
uncanny, the tantastic and the marvellous.
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Among the
genres ot tantasy literature, the marvellous is the genre
ot the supernatural, vhereas the key condition tor the
tantastic, according to 1odorov, is a text vhich induces
the reader to ‘hesitate betveen a natural and supernatural
explanation ot the events described’.
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1odorov’s theories
try to shov hov the tantastic is produced in literary
narratives, but since photographs, as single images, con-
stitute non-narrative units, the narrative (syntactic, aspect
ot his arguments have to be modited in order to be used
tor visual images.
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Although ‘photographic narrative’ is
a phrase otten heard in discussions about photography
there is no narrative or narration in a single still picture.
Any so-called ‘story’ in a single picture is the product
ot a spectator’s active interpretation – otten aided or led
by a caption or text – in vhich the picture has sparked
the memory ot an already read story.
In surrealism, the marvellous vas not specitc to
any torm or medium, although it vas obviously trst
tormulated in relation to the ‘poetic image’ in literary
practices. 1he marvellous remained a constant term used
throughout surrealism, vhile the means ot achieving
it shitted, trom automatic vriting and its variants in
draving and painting, through to photography, tlm and
¡¡ Breton, Manifestos of Surreal-
ism, p. +¡.
¡o Iouis Aragon, Paris Peasant
(Iondon: Pan Books, +,:o,, p. :+;.
1he book vas vritten and pub-
lished in instalments betveen
+,:¡ and +,:o the quoted passage
is trom the last part.
¡; See 1odorov, The Fantastic,
and Posemary ¦ackson’s ‘Psycho-
analytical Perspectives’ chapter in
her Fantasy: The Literature of
Subversion (Iondon: Methuen,
+,:o,.
¡: 1odorov, The Fantastic, p. ¡¡.
In 1odorov’s account distinctions
betveen these categories are
usually decided in the narrative
resolution or closure ot the text,
e.g. ‘it vas only a dream’. The
Sandman story by L. 1. A. Hon-
mann and cited by lreud in his
‘1he “Lncanny”’ is one such
example vhere uncertainty is not
resolved.
¡, 1here is obviously a diner-
ence here betveen the status ot
the signiter in tlm and literature
as temporal in their very constitu-
tion and draving, painting and
photography as spatial. See Peter
Wollen’s ‘lire and Ice’ essay, in
¦. X. Berger and Olivier Pichon
(eds,, Other than Itself (Manches-
ter: Cornerhouse, +,:o,.