Research point. Surrealism in colour documentary

Carl de Keyzer


A black humour pervades the strange juxtapositions and incongruous elements seen in Carl de Keyser’s documentary series of former gulags that now function as prisons in Russia.

The use of colour further enhances the hyperreal appearance of the images, a lion oversees released prisoners as they await their train back home here. An inmate wears brightly checked pyjamas that clash with the bed covers here

However despite the humour the subject matter is far from comical , the absurdity made me examine the images carefully and consider what de Keyzer want us to see , what do they suggest ?

A prisoner proudly holds a baby , perhaps his child , watched by a guard who almost seems to be a peeping Tom practically hidden from view behind a make shift curtain doorway here. A young boy of about 8 or 9 stands in front of a horse and cart laden with carcasses here. Text informs me they are in the prisoners village , a baby and the boy with his red Mickey Mouse bag do not belong in such a foreboding place.

Bizarrely wrapped in a Snow White towel a tattooed inmate turned away from the camera whilst another man reaches out to touch his back here. What relationship exists between the two men ?

The images are far more complex than they first appear.

Peter Dench

A&E Alcohol and England

A&E Alcohol and England is actually quite a sobering –excuse the pun–piece of documentary work .

I briefly looked at Peter Dench’s website for the introduction to Part three and made the following notes.Brightly coloured reportage / street photography. Candid and frequently humorous images , although some could be considered also slightly cruel . Interestingly he says his own style of photography is inspired more by writers and comedians including a favourite columnist of mine ,Tim Dowling. His website provides links to a vast variety of his work , the images are both funny , some made me laugh out loud , but also strangely depressing at times. His observational skills are clearly well honed in capturing the absurdity of everyday life.

The title of the series A&E cleverly subverts the commonly used abbreviation for Accident & Emergency hospital departments. Alcohol related problems account for more than 3 in 10 patients attending A&E departments countrywide , more at weekends. The British and their notorious association with alcohol are captured in all their drunken glory and the images , which at first might cause laughter ,see here , highlight quite a lugubrious problem. Having been closely involved with the terrible consequences that alcoholism can cause with a close family member I see beyond the initial veneer of humour present in Dench’s images and read an underlying subliminal truth.

England Uncensored

The diversity and quirkiness of a multifaceted nation is at first glance a more lighthearted investigation of England at the beginning of the 21st Century. Dench’s England is inhabited by grinning pensioners , pub strippers , bodies of all shapes and sizes , wet umbrellas’ , dogs in bags , and ethnically diverse. However whilst the majority of the images are quirky Dench still manages to convey a sense of unease , I find this image here interesting, and slightly disturbing. Look carefully at the figure behind the three elderly gentlemen , then look at these here & here. Dench’s England is not a green and pleasant land but something far more convoluted than that.

Guy Tillim

Leopold and Mobutu

Whilst using elements of humour and a surreal approach (see here)Tillim’s foreboding images of the Congo are the antitheses of Dench’s England.

The exhibited work included single, diptych and triptych images , presented in both mono and muted tones.

References /Bibliography
Accessed 14/6/15
Accessed 14/6/15

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