A renewed interest in surrealist images prompted me to see Lukas Strebel’s exhibition of photographs from the 1970s at Printspace in London. All of the images are constructs in the surrealist style. Most are single images but there are also dyptics, tryptics and quartets of related images.
On first viewing, many of the images had me scratching my head in puzzlement: “what does this mean?” or “why on earth has he put this with that?” were frequent questions. Was I being obtuse? I hope not, but I did find myself having to adjust my expectations of the images. These images were not working at the same emotional level as most other photo exhibitions I go to. I abandoned any notion that there was a message in each picture, then found myself trying to construct a story for each of them. This was fun, and it made the exhibition much more “mine” than “Lukas Strebel’s”. Or perhaps more accurately, a collaboration between us in a way that is unusual in the viewer-photographer-subject triumvirate.
Lukas’ favorite image is, apparently, Meus Volatus Magicus Supra Antoglyphum (1971), or as I call it, “the one with the pretentious title”. You can read some background at The Guardian’s excellent “My Best Shot” blog:
Well yes, it is eye-catching, but it’s not top of my list. I prefer the obscurity and odd-ball humour of Pharoh’s Nightmare (1975) (yes that’s Pharoh not Pharaoh):
I recently had a dream that involved pink flamingos part-flying part-floating through the air blowing bubbles. This had no relationship to any other experience or memory that I am conscious of. It was very surreal and memorable not only for the weird dream-image but also because it is one of the few dreams I can remember now that I’m awake! But it immediately brought to mind the images in Lukas’s exhibition: they seem to be more the product of dreams than conscious thought. And I think that’s a better way of approaching these (and others’) surreal images – a tangible record of an unconscious image.