Professor Linda Steer has been fascinated with photography since she was a little girl looking at her grandmother’s photo albums. Her interest in photography and surrealism has now led to the recent publication of her book, Appropriated Photographs in French Surrealist Periodicals, 1924-1939.
Steer says understanding the appropriation and recirculation of images is an important part of our media-rich culture.
“Research on photography is becoming increasingly important as we live more and more of our lives through visual images,” she says.
Memes are one modern example of how the meaning of an image changes.
“They are typically photographic images that have been appropriated and altered through the addition of text or juxtaposition with other images. They circulate on social media. That process of adding text and re-circulating changes their meanings,” Steer says.
The surrealists of the 1920s and 1930s were doing a similar thing in their magazines: taking existing images and juxtaposing them with other images or text. In this process, surrealists turned established images, such as medical images or crime-scene photographs, into works of art with very different meanings from the original photographs.
It’s important to our image-laden lives to understand this process and what it means, says Steer.
Her book is structured around four case studies and is the first of its kind on this topic.
Since art history is an interdisciplinary field, Steer’s analysis engages with histories of psychiatry, psychoanalysis, ethnography, anthropology, literature and poetry, criminology, forensics, politics, religion, and popular culture in late 19th and early 20th century France and beyond.
While the book is for an academic audience, Steer hopes those interested in photography and art will also find it appealing.
“I hope that my book gives readers a new way of thinking about the complex relationships between surrealism and photography, and that it allows readers to understand, in a more general way, how photographs work and how they come to have meaning,” Steer concludes.