The Surrealists

The Surrealists

Surrealist artists of the 1920s, such as Man Ray, often worked in more than one medium-but for many, photography was the ideal form for exploring their ideas. Torsos, hands, and other anatomical features were often rendered not as nudes, but as abstract forms. Sometimes they were stretched and distorted by mirrors or combined with other images in the darkroom. In one famous picture, Man Ray even painted "f" shapes onto a female nude to make it look as though her back was a stringed instrument. With surrealism, the imagination was given free rein. Arguably, the classic image of the period is Man Ray's Tears. As its title suggests, the picture is a close-up of a woman's face with carefully positioned glass tears.

So, how do you emulate Man Ray's Surrealist tears in your own photograph? You can buy tubes of colored gel that simulates water droplets, but your subject may find using this substance an unappealing prospect. Instead, add artificial tears in Photoshop, and adjust them afterward to perfect your image. Incidentally, with a little adaptation this technique can be adapted to create glassy-looking text, buttons, and raindrop effects.

Many surrealist "portraits" were abstract close-ups, so choose a suitable readymade image or crop in tightly on your chosen image. This three-month-old was captured with a macro lens.

  1. First, convert the image to black and white and finetune its contrast. In this case, a Channel Mixer adjustment layer produced a neutral, balanced starting point.

  2. Once you're satisfied that the black-and-white image looks right, start adding the glass tears. Hold down the Alt/Opt key and click the "Create a new layer" icon in the Layers palette. Name the layer "Tears," and set its blending mode to Hard Light.

  3. Select the Brush tool (B), reset it by right/Ctrl-clicking the tool's options, and adjust its size to match the size of the tear. Make the brush edges very hard by using Shift +] a few times, and set Photoshop's Foreground Color to white-hit the D key (which resets colors to defaults) followed by x (which swaps between the selected colors).

  4. Zoom right in, check that the Tears layer is active, and then click the mouse to dab the face with the shapes of your tears. Adjust the brush size for different-sized tears, but realism isn't important; Surrealist tears can be improbably circular.

  5. With the tears on their own layer, give them a glassy look with a Layer Style. Click the "Add a layer style" icon in the Layers palette, select Blending Options, and then click the Styles label at the Layer Style dialog box's top left corner. From its menu triangle, load the Glass Buttons style. Click OK or Append.

  6. Set the Layer Styles dialog so that it shows thumbnails of the built-in effects. You can click the styles and immediately see their effect on your image.

  7. Here I've started with "Teal Glass," which has a colored effect. To counter this, first uncheck Color Overlay. This is not the only color effect in this Style, however.

  8. The Inner Glow can also contain color. This preset style has a colored gradient, so click the little colored square in the Structure area to change it to black.

  9. Add a drop shadow, but don't make it so pronounced that it looks as if the tears are floating above the face.

  10. Just to give a faint edge, add a 1-pixel, mid-gray stroke to the layer.

  11. The Bevel option is probably the most important setting at this stage. Experiment with its Structure options until the edges of your tears rise into tight, drop-like configurations. In the Shading area, drag the edge of the Angle circle to simulate the direction of light on your droplet. Best of all, drag the crosshair inside the Angle circle and you can change the light's character, too-the closer it gets to the center, the more it behaves like a pin light.

  12. On Blending Options: Default, change the overall blending mode to Hard Light and adjust the opacity just enough to retain the fine hair on the baby's cheekI used 60%.

  13. Save your style by clicking the New Style button (this makes it easy to apply the style to other images later). Now that you've styled the Tear layer, you can repaint your tears or drag them into position. The layer style updates the appearance of the tear automatically.

  14. A great finishing touch is to add appropriate toning. Here I reused the gelatin silver tone effect we created on page 60 (American avant-garde). I also added a signature, using a small brush to write on a new layer.

The Surrealists often represented the body as an abstract form and added details such as these "glass tears." The sharpness of the tears contrasts with the shallow depth of field, and their artificial look and texture play up the surrealist effect of the image.

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