Dariusz Klimczak’s Surrealist Photography: Landscapes of Illusion

Dariusz Klimczak’s Surrealist Photography: Landscapes of Illusion
Polish photographer Dariusz Klimczak uses photo manipulation to transform desolate landscapes into images that provoke feeling and distorted recognition, injecting them with the familiar and the dynamic. His works draw on the ideas and figures of Surrealism, reminding the viewer of photographic versions of Dali’s paintings. We take a closer look at Klimczak’s stunning works.

Born in 1967 in Sieradz, a town in central Poland, Klimczak has spent the last 25 years developing his passion for photography. A graduate of the Zduńska Wola Art School he has worked as a painter, journalist and aphorist – winning the Grand Prix of the seventh edition of Aphoristic Contest in Nowy Targ in 2005 – before focusing his attention solely on photography. One can certainly see such aphorism in his photographic work, as Klimczak’s preferred use of monochrome gives his images a sense of simplicity and uncanniness that engages the viewer in a moment of mood and meaning. Such uncanniness can largely be attributed to his juxtaposition of everyday, recognisable objects and figures with vacant landscapes – such as deserts and expanses of fields – creating images that are totally unrestricted in terms of imagination. This links Klimczak inextricably with the Surrealist movement.

Surrealism originated in the early 20th century as a literary movement, adopting spontaneous techniques such as automatism to ‘release the unbridled imagination of the subconscious’. Its artistic movement is often associated with Dadaism, a kind of ‘anti-art’ that aimed to shock its audience and digress from convention by encouraging the fantastical and the imaginary. The surrealist movement sought to question our perceived notion of reality and so focused on the repressed or subconscious levels of existence, such as dreams and sexuality. Art became a way in which to examine these, bringing them to the surface and giving them a life of their own to give a more truthful, less idealised representation of human nature. As such, the surrealist movement had strong connections with the theories of Austrian psychologist Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), whose work was especially in vogue during this period. Freud sought to explore the regions of the mind normally stifled by societal restrictions, for instance the Oedipus Complex he attributed as the pre-conscious root of our sexuality.

One cannot refer to surrealism and not pay homage to the work of Salvador Dali, a Spanish artist born in 1904 who – by the time of his death in 1989 – had become the iconic, and eccentric, figure of surrealism. Dali became increasingly interested in surrealism whilst attending the Academia de San Fernando in Madrid in 1922 where he experimented with many different influences (including Cubism and metaphysics) until establishing himself as a Surrealist in 1929. This period of his work was especially dream-like, mirroring his avid interest in the work of Freud. Indeed, one of Dali’s major contributions to surrealist movement was a term he coined the ‘paranoiac-critical method’, a kind of artistic interpretation of the earlier literary automatism which involved a process of looking into his own subconscious, often his dreams, and recreating them.

Arguably his most famous work is The Persistence of Memory (1931), a painting of melting clocks in a deserted landscape. We can certainly see characteristics of the likes of this work paralleled in that of Klimczak; the dream-like setting, the familiarity of the pocket watches and the use of perspective. However, whilst Dali largely used such symbols somewhat egotistically, representing his own dreams and expressing his individual emotions, Klimczak’s work is notably more playful and thought-provoking – his use of symbols is universal, allowing and encouraging the viewer to personally connect with the photography. Nonetheless, one of Dali’s statements rings particularly true with Klimczak’s exploration of the imaginary: “You have to systematically create confusion – it sets creativity free. Everything that is contradictory creates life” (1980). Creation may therefore be seen as a key concept of Klimczak’s work, his manipulation engenders moments of life by forcing the viewer to “contemplate or laugh”.

The image Empty Nest uses black and white to emphasise the isolated and somewhat wistful tone of the photo, the figure of the woman taking the place of the tree attaching a maternal sense of loss – an epitome of how Klimczak presents his viewer with a way in which to connect with his work. Intertwining the woman’s dress into the roots may be said to reconnect humanity with the earth, as this natural process of mothering and then letting go is universal. His frequent use of universal symbols, such as the nest, acts as a signifier towards specific relatable ideas, in this case of maternity and the bittersweet conclusion of it.

Alongside the representation of human figures, a common feature of Klimczak’s work is his use of animals, providing that necessary kick of dynamism into the lifeless landscapes. For instance, in Mustang the central focus is on the virility of the horse cantering across the sand, the contrast in object and setting magnified by the monochrome as the eye is drawn to the whiteness of the horse and the way in which its movement disturbs the previously still landscape. In order to create this montage, Klimczak first took the photograph of the horse on a friend’s farm and then layered it onto an image of the Polish dunes near to his hometown: the influence of the artist’s immediate environment and experiences saturating much of his work.

Sofa No. 3 shows how Klimczak incorporates everyday objects seamlessly into the natural landscapes to achieve this uncanny surreal effect. This particular piece is a tribute to Frank Zappa’s song ‘Sofa’, which appeared on The Mothers of Invention’ album One Size Fits All and is reportedly a result of Zappa’s fascination with the people of Germany as it contains both English and German lyrics. The album artwork has a sofa in the centre of a similarly surreal cosmic background. Described as “an iconoclastic defender of the freest possible expression of ideas”, sharing a similar ideology to the likes of Dali, one can see why Zappa so inspired Klimczak with his belief in the absolute liberty of creative expression.

Whilst Klimczak prefers to work in black and white, he is not completely dismissive of colour, indeed he takes advantage of colour when he feels it appropriate. For instance, in his dreamlike landscapes, pops of colour exaggerate the juxtaposition being expressed. Another use of colour can be seen in Reflection Tree, a piece unlike Klimczak’s trademark montages. A picture reflected in water, it is has then been reversed 180 degrees to again give this uncanny effect of the tree as we gradually come to recognise the distorted image. His use of colour here is vibrantly autumnal and serves to illustrate the movement of the water further.

Klimczak’s work is testament to this idea of wholly unrestrained, creative and imaginative freedom. Whilst surreal, his images are constantly brought back down to earth through the repeated reference to the familiar, to relatable and recognisable figures, and through celebration of the beauty of the natural.