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What is a surrealist photograph?

What is a surrealist photograph? 1 Man Ray, Centrale Surréaliste ().The surrealists photographed at the

1 Man Ray, Centrale Surréaliste ().The surrealists photographed at the Bureau of Surrealist Research in :

Max Morise, RogerVitrac, Jacques-André Boiffard,André Breton, Paul Eluard, Pierre Naville, Giorgio de Chirico, Philippe Soupault, Simone Colinet-Breton, Robert Desnos, Jacques Baron, Raymond Queneau, Louis Aragon and Marie-Louise Soupault. Used on the front cover of La Révolution sur- réaliste, no. , December .

Such distinctions are, of course, provisional and sub- ject to revision. They are in no way meant as a ‘new’ ontology of the photographic image, despite any ne- ologisms.There are images – and critics – likely to test such categorical distinctions. Despite the possibility of ‘deconstructing’ them by attending to the ‘fringe’ areas, with images that might fall across or between them, I will nevertheless maintain them in a provisional work- ing hypothesis, so long as they have a general validity and use. A brief description will help elucidate what is intended by their scope and sense.


By a mimetic photograph is meant the totally con- ventional,‘normal’ use of photographs, as an ‘illustrative’ representation. In mimesis a photographic sign serves as a mimetic reproduction of the referent (the thing de- picted or referred to), which is held to be ‘reproduced’ photographically.This signifying ‘naturalism’ sees not the picture but only the thing depicted, ignoring the tech- niques of mediation, perspective, geometry, chemistry, lighting, etc.Within or outside surrealism such mimetic photographs are commonly used to ‘reproduce’ paintings, people or places where to all intents and purposes, the photograph remains invisible, ideologically ‘transparent’.

A typical example in surrealism is the top photograph

on the front cover of La Révolution surréaliste, no.  (December ) by Man Ray (see Figure ).The group

of surrealists (the referent) in this picture (the signier)