A SEN SE OF DISQUIET
Spaces that ought to be inhabited, coupled with a certain lighting and viewpoint, can tap into classical Surrealism
Surrealism’s reputation in the arts rests for most people on the strange imagery
of Salvador Dalí and René Magritte. However, Surrealism had its subtle side, and its core idea was that you can find the extraordinary in the ordinary. Photography was perfect for this, especially urban photography, devoid of people, so that viewers could find their own interpretations that went far beyond the subjects themselves.
The Surrealists ‘discovered’ the Parisian photographer Eugene Atget and made him an icon simply by reinterpreting his work. Much of the time, he set up his camera at times of day to record empty streets, and the results were slightly mysterious, or at least dislocated. One Surrealist writer of the 1920s, Albert Valentin, wrote about Atget’s photographs that “Everything has the air of taking place somewhere else, somewhere beyond.” The Italian painter de Chirico perfectly captured the haunted mood of strange and empty cityscapes. The ingredients of this mood are emptiness, strange angles and viewpoints, raking light, and no people.