Art 315, Photography
Goshen College, Marvin Bartel, Inst.


    Surrealist artists base much of their aesthetic premise on the concept of placing familiar things out of context. Most of us experience this world of creative juxtapositions in our dreams where times, places, people, and things combine in new and absolutely fascinating ways. In the art world we think of Picasso's sculpture where a bicycle seat with the handlebars welded to it becomes the head of a bull, or where the earth has a car on top of it to form the image of an ape. Painters like Salvador Dali and Rene Magritte often brought totally unexpected subjects together. Many poets are masters of visual metaphor. They use one set of words to describe and help us visualize another experience. 

    "Similarities Catching" is one of the characteristics of highly creative people. They can see one thing and recognize the absurd connections between that thing and something else. 

    It was a beautiful autumn day. I was carrying my camera on the Goshen College campus looking for a photograph. As I looked over at the U.S.A. flag I happened to be standing behind John Mishler's sculpture entitled, "Broken Shield". I noted that I could lower my camera position and make a photograph of the sculpture with the flag flying from its top. I was discovering an ironic visual metaphor for the kinds of juxtapositions (creative tensions) we live with every day. There was a similarity between what I was seeing and one aspect of what I often feel about the world in which we live. 

    In the 1960's was mourning the tragic loss of Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy. I was angry, sad, and feeling terribly frustrated about the seemingly heartless stance of organizations that still felt we should all be free to own and use guns without any checks for sanity, criminal history, or safety training. I didn't think any sort of letter to a politician would make any difference. I didn't think any sort of artwork I could make could change anybody's heart. Because Martin Luther King had died, my subconscious awareness connected the lynchings of minorities by hate groups. It must have felt like my hate of our absolute freedom to own and use a gun. At that moment my hate for guns felt similar to the way it must have felt like to unfairly hate a minority person enough to hang that person without a fair trial. I wanted to lynch guns to save people. I was feeling like a hate group person who wanted to lynch minority persons in order to save their own race. This was a "surrealist similarities catching moment" in my artistic life. It drove me to produce the piece illustrated at this link (use a full width monitor window to see it better). I don't think it changes the world. It helped me say something that I needed to say. 

    In this assignment I know we can't call up passion on demand. As students and during of our lives as artists we are simply diligently working in the studio so that when that rare moment of passion and inspiration strikes we are finally competent to create a worthy expression of it. In this spirit I propose this assignment.

  1. Invent relationships which defy or play with reality.
  2. Add new meaning or feeling to ordinary images.
  3. Infuse thought into everyday expectations.
  4. Decorate experiences.
  5. Move from prose to poetry.
  6. Move from truth to fiction.
  7. Move from reporting to human interest.
  8. Add meaning (maybe even truth).
  1. Basic assignment: Photograph the same common object or small group of objects in ten out of context situations. Example: An ordinary cup and saucer placed in ways you would never actually find it.
  2. Advanced assignment (optional substitute for basic assignment): Make a series of related out of context images to tell a story. Work within a theme.
  3. Advanced assignment (optional substitute for basic assignment): Find a series of weird mergers where unexpected background images merge in out-of-context ways with foreground subjects.
  1. Play around and experiment.
  2. Consider humor as an important function of art.
  3. Use your artist within to aesthetically organize chaotic juxtaposition of imagery.
  4. Review this section of other assignments for ideas.
  1. Recall the visual elements of line, shape, texture, and tone. Arrange the composition to intentionally give emphasis to one of the elements.
  2. Consider using a repeat pattern in the background as context. Patterns insist on being noticed.
  3. Develop a theme with variation. Use repetition with change.
  4. Review this section of other assignments for ideas.
  1. Play around. Experiment.
  2. Get closer. Fill the frame.
  3. Make it sharp. Think camera support, film speed, and lighting.
  4. Consider bracketing depth of field.
  5. Consider bracketing exposure.
  1. Make contacts and discuss them with creative colleagues. Bounce around some ideas.
  2. Print several test prints.
  3. Make and mount one or more final prints any shape as large as possible on 11 x 14 paper. If it is cropped square make it 11 x 11. If it is vertical or horizontal it can be anything x 14.
  4. Optionally, you may print and present a series of images. In some cases a serial format makes a stronger statement.
  1. Retouch the final print(s).
  2. Mount on neutral tone such as white, black or gray.
  3. Calculate equal margins on sides and top with a larger margin at bottom. Be generous with margin size.
  4. Leave no smudges or marks to distract.

  5. Sign with pencil on mount or ink on print without distracting from the overall presentation.

© Marvin Bartel, instructor. 1998, 2000, 2002. None of these materials may be published or copied in any form without prior permission from the author. Goshen Photography students have permission to print a personal copy. Others may request authorization by sending e-mail to: marvinpb@goshen.edu

See Duane Michals build a photographic "In Context" Pyamid at this Kodak web site that has 18 of his works.
A web site from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts about Surrealist Photographer Duane Michals
Art 255 Assignments page
Art 315 Assignment page
Art 315 Syllabus

updated 4-2002