Surrealism in Colour

I found it interesting that the course notes here state that ‘Humour is an essential quality of the surreal image’ (OCA:61). My understanding is that this isn’t the only aspect of surrealism relevant to photography; psychological disturbance is perhaps even more relevant than humour. To pick an example from the past, I don’t see the overt humour in Man Ray’s ‘Minotaure’ cover image.

This then brings up the question of colour; if psychological disturbance and humour are of equal importance, can colour affect this in anyway? Or is it purely down to the subject? Melanie Einzig’s photograph ‘Teletransport’ is a good example of this question

The image leads us to several questions; why are the shoes there, or why is one hanging and not the other? The surrealist humour is present but does colour provide this humour? It seems to me that this image would work just as well in black and white.

Martin Parr’s work is often humorous, and although he has been criticised in the past for a condescending tone towards his subjects, it has always seemed to me that he is laughing with his subjects rather than at them. In this image from his ‘Last Resort’ set, the use of colour makes this image a lot warmer than it would do in black and white.

Although the slightly darker sky looks rather ominous, the colours of the childrens’ clothes make them seem happier than they would in B&W.  The pure white of the ice cream on their faces is what makes this seem even more amusing; monochrome would likely give the image more of an air of poverty and perhaps even child neglect.

This photograph from Paul Russell is another example of colour giving the image more of an unsettling feel than would be the case in B&W.

The man on the bench here seems upset about something, and the costumed charity collector looking at him is suggestive of an evil spirit infecting his consciousness. In B&W this would be unnerving but the bright yellow of the costume means the effect is hugely magnified  

Jonathan Higbee’s ‘Coincidences’ book is almost all surreal humour, and is particularly relevant in that the humour is entirely dependent on colour. There is very little in the way of psychological disturbance here; these are really just visual puns.

This image would work to a certain extent in B&W but is much better in colour when we can see the direct connection between the phone and the painted wall. It is a fun, quirky image but no more than that. That is not to dismiss it as being less than some others as it works exactly as intended.  

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