Surrealism in Street Photography

To start, Henri Cartier-Bresson was The Godfather of Street photography, and most of our inspiration stems from him. His legacy penetrates all of photography, to the master photographers, magnum photographers, and almost all of us.

So in a sense, if you’re passionate about photography or street photography, you are a student, or deeply influenced by the imagery and philosophy of Henri Cartier-Bresson.

One interesting thing I learned about Henri Cartier-Bresson was his influence from surrealism. Henri Cartier-Bresson hung out with a lot of surrealists, and you can see how strong the impact of surrealism played out in his work.

I’ve also been studying the work of Magritte — and if you see the link between Henri Cartier-Besson and Magritte, and you see the imagery from street photographers — most street photographers are surrealists.

As surreal street photographers, we are playing with ordinary reality, and making it surreal. We are turning the ordinary into the extraordinary.

1. Overlap Technique

One technique Rene Magritte uses a lot in his painting is to overlap the faces of his paintings with objects.

Man in bowler hat by Rene Magritte. Note how the face is obscured by the dove.

We see the overlap technique used by Henri Cartier-Bresson:

Henri Cartier Bresson, the knot overlapped with the head of the man.

Looking at other master photographers, who are all influenced by Henri Cartier-Bresson, see these images.

For example, this picture by Joel Meyerowitz:

Woman at ticket booth, with head overlapped by Joel Meyerowitz

Or this picture by Lee Friedlander, who would make humorous self-portraits of himself by overlapping his face with objects.

Self portrait of Lee Friedlander with trophy on his face in reflection of glass.

Or this picture by Friedlander, with the light bulb on his face — symbolism of the light bulb as an idea!

Self portrait of Lee Friedlander with light bulb.
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