Scholar Presents Paper on the Origins of Surrealism at Great Plains Honors Council Conference

Third-year Donaghey Scholar Alex Leme presented a paper at this year’s Great Plains Honors Council meetings at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Texas. Leme’s talk was titled “Straight Documentary Photography and Surrealism: A Dialectical Resolution”.


The origin of Surrealism can be traced back to early 20th century Paris, where it began as a literary movement. Surrealist writers sought to free the subconscious from mediated responses through the concept of automatism. In 1924, with the publication of the Manifeste du Surréalisme by André Breton, the Surrealist movement was officially launched. Surrealism in photography was hitherto performed mainly by the actual darkroom manipulation of the images. As diverse as these techniques may have been, there is one form that merits further development: the Surrealist, but straight, documentary photography. Numerous studies have already scrutinized several aspects of the staged and manipulated photography produced within Surrealism. Little, however, has been explored surrounding ideas of documentary photography. For this reason, this paper endeavors to disassemble the barriers between “the real and the surreal,” ultimately striving towards their dialectical resolution. Underpinning this study is the premise that a single photograph may shift meaning as it moves from the place where it has been taken to the place where it is published or viewed. It is assumed that the articulation of the work within the context of its reception can unveil its Surrealist dimension. Secondly, it entails probing into what the Surrealists, chiefly André Breton, might have said about photography or how one might read an image through Surrealist lenses.

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