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  • Published on: 7th September 2019
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Surrealistic Photography


Let us introduce you tot he world of surrealistic photography. The main reason we chose this subject is because we, as Photo Design students, are very interested in this topic. We find it very interesting how you can make such art in Photoshop. We learned about Photoshop at school and it was not nearly as professional as the artists we are going to discuss but still we found it very fascinating and we learned a lot. We also find it impressive how Storm made all those surreal images without Photoshop because nowadays in our industry they always use Photoshop. It is crazy how much you can manipulate a picture using Photoshop.  

Surrealism in the photography

Surrealism is an art movement that began in the 20th century. The purpose was to represent unrealistic objects or situations. It developed out of the Dada Movement during World War I. At first it started with paintings. A known painter in this movement is Magritte, known for the painting of the man with the apple in front of his head. Later on, this movement gradually spread to all branches of art, including poetry, film, philosophy and photography.

It was Man Ray (1890 - 1976) who introduced this new movement to the world of photography. He used his technical expertise and imagination to create surreal, sometimes scary images. His photographs were created using double exposure, montage, layering… Man Ray had one of the biggest effects on surrealism in photography.

Another leader of this surreal photography was Maurice Tabard (1897-1984). Tabard was a fashion photographer born in France. He used among others double exposure and solarisation to create eerie silhouettes.

Introducing Thorgerson and Johansson

There are 2 major artists in the industry who appealed to us: Storm Thorgerson and Erik Johansson. They both work on surrealistic projects but they use different techniques. One big difference between them is that Storm only does this as his job. Johansson usually works on personal projects, not always for clients.

The biggest difference between Storm and Johansson is that Johansson works with Photoshop and combines different photographs and Storm only takes one photo and he did not use Photoshop to create surreal images. Mostly because when Storm started doing what he loved, Photoshop did not exist so he had to be creative to find different ways to make his work surreal. He is one of a kind because most artists use Photoshop nowadays. Another difference between Storm and Erik is that Storm worked with a team and a lot of freelancers, unlike Erik who works on his own. Nobody else edits his work or changes something about it, Erik does all the editing.

Storm Thorgerson

Storm Thorgerson was born in February 1944. He unfortunately passed away in 2013 so he became 69 years old. Thorgerson was an English graphic designer. His best known works were for clients like Pink Floyd, Muse, Goose… So u can see he worked almost all the time for album artworks. We will be showing some works later on. He was of Norwegian origin. He studied English and Philosophy at the University, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree, before studying Film and Television, where he graduated with a Master of Arts degree.

Some of the guys of Pink Floyd studied at the same high school as Storm. He was a teenage friend of Pink Floyd guitarist David.

Around 1970 he started the art group Hipgnosis together with Aubrey Powell. Hipgnosis was very successful and they designed a lot of famous album artworks. Peter Christopherson joined them for their later assignments. Later the group split and Thorgerson and Powell formed a new business called Greenback Films, producing music videos.

In the early nineties Thorgerson founded StormStudios along with Peter Curzon and a changing group of freelancers. After a while Rupert Truman joined the group. Not much later, Dan Abott added the group. StormStudios made logo’s, websites, books and what they are most known for, album artworks.

Thorgerson’s designs were known for their surreal elements. He liked to place objects out of their usual context. To quote Thorgerson, "I like photography because it is a reality medium, unlike drawing which is unreal. I like to mess with reality ... to bend reality. Some of my works beg the question ‘is it real or not?’”

Thorgerson and his team designed and released several books about their work.

In 2013, Prog Magazine renamed its Grand Design Award after Thorgerson. It is now known as the Storm Thorgerson Grand Design Award and will be given to the designer of the year's best-packaged product. Thorgerson had won this award in 2012 for his work with Pink Floyd.

Storm Thorgerson was influenced by artists such as Man Ray, Picasso, Magritte…

When he was working on an album cover, he listened to lyrics of the music and spoke to the musicians to get ideas for his project.

Storm first gets a brief about the job and he listens to the clients their needs and wishes. The brief can be via the phone, mail, face-to-face… For music albums he listens to the music, he reads the lyrics and he listens to the words of wisdom from the musician.

After the brief he starts with the roughs. Storm says that he finds it hard to approach the blank page. The first mark is the hardest. They come together and discuss the brief and make notes. They repeat process several times till they get a good idea. And they begin to sketch. They put all the visual ideas into a figurative illustration, which is usually done by Dan Abbott or Finlay Cowan. Then they show the illustration at the local population and they check if they like it or not. As result they get immediate feedback.

Once the rough has been accepted they first test it. For the Devision Bell they first cut the faces out of polystyrene and put it on the test location. Hereby they don’t use too much budget.

If the test did work out they go to the next stadium: Shooting. They arrange a location which they could use for a couple of days because they can’t prelude the weather. The crew photographs the things a couple days because the weather is different, the angle they take the picture changes also. They experiment with filters, profiles…

As fifth step they make a selection. It’s very hard and it can take a couple days.

When the selection is made, they have some computer work to do. They clean up little things, such as the cables where lights were hanging on. But he doesn’t use photoshop to manipulate things. Then the crew inserts it into a CD booklet.

Storm Thorgerson’s work

Pink Floyd - The Dark Side Of The Moon

We will discuss the work of Pink Floyd, The Dark Side Of The Moon. The band asked Storm to create a graphic design, not a picture. Storm was a little surprised, because that is what he was known for. Eventually he agreed, but he did make a sketch of how the photo would look like as second option, which was rejected by Pink Floyd.

Storm wanted to create a link with the live shows of Pink Floyd. They had brainstorm sessions until four in the morning. The shows are famous for their lighting, ambition and madness. Storm told in an interview that the idea of the prism did not relate to what he was hearing but what he was seeing, the light show. He also thought that the triangle, which is a symbol of thought and ambition, was very much a subject of Roger’s lyrics.

The album was sold 50 000 000 times. When people see the cover they automatically link it to Pink Floyd, even when they have not even heard of the band.

The Cranberries - Wake up and smell the coffee

This too is an album cover for the Cranberries. Storm did work several times with them. The title of the album is wake up and smell the coffee. This title gave him an idea, he thought about creating little granules of coffee floating in the air, settling in your nose and waking you up. This idea became a concept.

These little granules of coffee became red cranberries, he imagined small, floating red particles, like actual cranberries. He was not satisfied with the little balls, so he used big red gym balls for creating that effect, they bought 200 of them each 3 feet in diameter. Because the balls that he used were too big and there were too many of them, he needed to shoot it outside. For this work he needed to first check if it would work, so they tested it before in a grass field. He cooperated with his crew and built an

entire stand where he dropped the balls as you can see in the picture. It took an hour to recover the balls before putting them back in the pen at the top of the tower and doing it again and again. So there is no photoshop used, everything in the picture is real.

Erik Johansson

Erik Johansson is a photographer and retoucher born in Sweden but now lives in Berlin. He was born in April 1985 so that makes him 31 years old. His grandmother was a painter and he has had a passion for drawing and working on the computer since early childhood. His passion for photography came with his first camera, which he got for his 15th birthday. But as he took some pictures, he felt like they were not finished. He wanted to do something more with the pictures. So when he was playing with his photos on the computer, that is when he discovered his passion for retouching and manipulation.

Erik wanted to combine his passion for drawing, his computer skills and his love for photography all in one. So he came up with photo manipulation. At that time it was just a hobby for him. After a while he got more and more serious proposals. The proposals he got from companies weren’t as creative and original as his private work, but he loves doing it for a living as well.

He went to the Chalmers University of Technology and there he studied Computer Engineering. At university he made a friend who had the same passion as Johansson, which is photography. They started to take pictures together and Erik felt more and more passionate. He had a lot of crazy ideas and he started posting some of his work online. Some local advertising agencies reached out to him, asking him for some help. That is when he combined his studies with working as a freelancer to start with. Erik majored in Interaction Design and after that he worked some time as a freelancer in Sweden, Berlin and currently he is working in Prague. He has already worked with some big companies such as Google, Adobe and Microsoft.

Johansson finds his inspiration from the things around him, things he sees in his daily life, but also different artist’s work and music. The people that inspire him are for example Salvador Dali, René Magritte, M.C. Escher… They are all big names in the art of painting.

Johannson starts with brainstorming about an idea and thinks about how he can realise that idea into a picture. After that he sketches all his ideas in his notebook where he sketches everything. Then he creates surreal images by taking several pictures and putting them all together using Photoshop. Sometimes taking only pictures isn’t enough. For example, for his work Landfall, he had to make the liquid grass himself so he could take a picture of it. For the same work he also made a mini dummy. He is a master in Photoshop and he uses all sorts of little tricks to manipulate his photos and creating a surrealistic mood.

Erik Johanssons work

Drifting Away

The first artwork we are going to talk about is Drifting Away. He worked almost a year on it, from the idea itself to the finished project. His projects take a lot of time because he wants the photos to be perfect. For example, the town in the bottle has to be perfect and not just a random town he has seen, therefore he puts trees and houses together in Photoshop. The bottle couldn’t be just any bottle. He searched until he found the perfect one. Erik found the bottle on a flea market in Berlin after a while of searching and found it perfect for the project.

When the project is almost finished, he waits a couple of weeks and then returns working on it. He says that after working on a project for so long it is hard to see what he can do better so he leaves it for a while and comes back with a fresh mind. Now we are going to show a short video how he made this artwork.


Landfall is another artwork from Johansson. For this artwork it was impossible to find something he could use for the liquid grass. He thought it would be too much work to Photoshop it, therefore he made it himself and took a picture of it. So he made a liquid for it and used used flour, water and coconut flakes for it. He built the location from cardboard boxes to make a dummy and to see what it would look like. Erik used Photoshop to combine all the pictures he took, landscape, liquid, house… The final image contains not less than 230 layers and yet it did not even take him a year to create this surreal image.  

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