Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop

October 11, 2012–January 27, 2013

Mind's Eye

Maurice Tabard (French, 1897–1984). Room with Eye, 1930. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1962 (62.576.4)

The Surrealist movement, founded in Paris in 1924, attracted photographers whose radical experiments had a profound impact on the medium's aesthetic evolution. Surrealist photographers devised many formal strategies to tap the creative power of dreams and the unconscious, yet all faced the same underlying question: How could the camera's eye be pried away from external appearances and made to represent the invisible inner world of thoughts, dreams, fears, fantasies, and desires? By manipulating the camera image—through multiple exposure, sandwiched negatives, photomontage, and other darkroom magic—artists exploited photography's illusionism to conjure fantastic scenarios that evoke the hallucinatory vividness of dreams.

By the late 1930s the outlandish iconography of Surrealism had begun to infiltrate mainstream commercial culture. No one did more to expand the movement's reach than the artist Salvador Dalí. His bizarre iconography and meticulous technique influenced the work of many mid-century photographers, including George Platt Lynes and Angus McBean, who played up the campy aspects of Surrealist dream imagery. Others extended the legacy of Surrealism in more personal, idiosyncratic directions, altering the photographic image to bridge the gap between visible reality and the metaphysical realm of the imagination.

Related Essay: "Photography and Surrealism"