Exercise 5.1 Illusion of photography – background tests and research

13th June 2020

I actually found the title and the brief confusing. Photography is always an illusion, so which way should I travel to complete this exercise? What are we actually being asked to produce?

Examples of illusion photography:

  • Post-processing
  • Forced perspective or perspective distortions
  • Form
  • Double exposure
  • Tiny planet
  • Use of lines
  • Camera placement EG tilting
  • Photo sequences

Common subjects and techniques

The website post, ’40 Incredible Examples of Optical Illusions in Photos’ which can be found on boredpanda.com is an amazing resource to the different subjects and techniques that people are using to create photography illusions.

The insert below shows a variety of images which can be found by searching Google.

Well Know Contemporary Illusion Photographers

Felice Varini: anamorphosis

The Swiss photographer Felice Varini is my favourite illusion photographer who uses design elements hand painted on flat surfaces and then photographed. However, these shapes can only be seen as three dimensional images when viewed at specific angles otherwise the viewer will just see broken sections.

Varini has to to take into account surfaces, angles, lines and the light when planning and creating his designs and then uses a screen projector to ensure they are painted in the correct positions.

Li Wei: anti gravity art photographer

The Chinese photographer Li Wei is widely known for his images that show people in a state of weightlessness, flight or falling from a huge height. To produce such illusions each image is technically planned for and he uses aids such as mirrors, iron cables, acrobats and scaffolding to obtain his illusions.

Although his work is very clever and takes quite a lot of planning to produce the images, I particularly do not get to over excited about his work. I believe this is because this illusion category is used for advertising and within films and music videos so often that it has lost its’ appeal. The techniques used are the same just different people and environment.

This series also has visual similarities to the work of Denis Darzacq, especially the series ‘Hyper’ 2007-2009, which is discussed in the blog post Denis Darzacq.

Hyper No 8

Chema Madoz: new perceptions

The Spanish photographer Jose Maria Rodriguez Madoz whose pseudonym is Chema Madoz, is my favourite ‘illusion’ photographer who uses objects and people within his work. He uses subtle shades of colour, exploits lines and textures, negative spaces and crops photographs so that the eye is drawn into the forms of his subjects.

There is something calming about his images which I feel is due to the neutral colours and simple detail which do not over power his subject matter.

Michael Hughes: placement photography

The American photographer Michael Hughes intrigues me because his work uses postcards and souvenirs from around the word which he then uses in his photography to create illusions. He places the postcards and objects so that the viewer perceives them to be part of their surroundings correct in size and positioning.

I cannot remember where or when, but a couple of years ago I remember reading how it took many attempts for Hughes to get the positioning of his objects and postcards correct within the landscape in front of him. He had two make sure, for example, that the building forms and the sizing was correct so there was a continuous flow of lines.

The images below particularly grab my attention as Hughes has thought very carefully about camera placements and the surroundings to his objects which set the scene.

Hughes postcards and CD covers within his photographs are what is termed, ‘photographs within photographs’ examples of which can be seen below.

Allan Teger: Bodyscapes

American photographer Allan Teger’s black and white bodyscapes are created by using the human form as the landscape or seascape with little miniature people posed on them.

Personally I do not like these images at all, for me they come across as cheesy and gimmicky. I can be positive about the use of the harsh black and white lighting though, I find it very dynamic and would prefer the images if the toy people were not present in the images. This way the human form can be a subtle illusion reflecting the lines of nature. Perhaps the body could even be shot in amongst nature so that the lines fall into place with the surrounding environment and made abstract by keeping the harsh black and white lighting.

14th June 2020

In Hiding: Hidden Sequences

I decided that I would complete a sequence that shows an illusion using Keith Arnatt’s Self Burial (1969) as inspiration. Here Arnatt disappears further into the ground image by image.

Self-Burial (Television Interference Project) 1969 Keith Arnatt 1930-2008 image from dawntomlin.blog

It is weird, and not at all helpful when I am studying on a course, that I tend to dream about what I will be producing for artwork, sculpture and photographs etc… It is tiring as I tend to wake up early morning around 2am and then plan the work.

I dreamt of Arnatt’s Self-Burial and then I dreamt that I would create the illusion that my reflection was disappearing from within a mirror.

I even dreamt of the actual photograph to use for the mirror background. The concept is that even when I am present with people, I am hiding from them. The other parts of me that I need to get through different situations and to interact act with different people are not visible. This is symbolised by appearing face in the mirror – which one of my brave self’s is needed for this situation?

The bathroom was in a restaurant and I was celebrating with people and thanking them for the support they had given me for three years of my life when I was under threat. They had tried to get me to leave the abuser on many, many occasions. However, if you are trauma bonded with all the mess that brings with it, you stick even further with your abuser. So this ‘self’ that is appearing in the mirror is one that is putting on a brave face, hence the smiling.

Once I found the image I uploaded it onto my iPad and then added a second layer which contained a self-portrait.

Once the face was positioned within the mirror correctly I began to erase the remaining of the image so that only my head was kept. From here it was just a case of saving the image each time I changed the opacity of the image so that my face became increasingly transparent.

Once I had repeated this action eight times I began to put five of the images into strip format.

The first strip that I created ran horizontally but I didn’t feel that visually I saw the progression from empty mirror to full face as well as I would have liked. I am wondering if it is because the whole sequence can be viewed with one glance.

In Hiding – horizontal strip

With this problem in mind, I wondered that if I changed the orientation of the strip the process of viewing the images would be broken up more and therefore the progression of the appearance of the face would be more noticeable.

For me the vertical orientation of the strip of images did indeed work far better than the horizontal layout to give the illusion of a face appearing. However I was still not happy at seeing the completed sequence all in one strip as our eyes could still see too much information which spoilt the overall feeling of the image emerging.

In Hiding – vertical strip

Taking into consideration the visual interference that we gain from seeing all the images presented to us at once, I remembered that Arnatt’s Self-Burial’ had been presented also as a slide show. By viewing images one at a time in a slide show our eyes focus on one image at a time and the materialising and the movement or the appearance of an object or person becomes easily detectable.

I therefore decided to put eight sequence images into a slide show and obtained the desired effect that I had hoped to achieve which was the emergence of the face within the mirror.

The completed work can be seen below.

I am really happy with the completed sequence and how it performs within a slide show. I feel my objective of giving the illusion of a fading portrait works well, especially as I increased the image count from five to eight.

If I was to re-present this idea there are a couple of things that I would change.

Firstly I would take a photograph of the mirror and keep some of its surrounding environment just like the image used for this exercise. I would then take a second shot with my reflection in it as well as my body. This means that the body would stay static within the sequence but the reflection would disappear. I would hope to achieve a moving image that could entice the viewer to question the content more.

After writing the above paragraph, I experimented a little more with the sequence. I took a close up self portrait of my face and cropped in very tightly so that in the mirror my scared eyes and nose were the only facial features present. Unfortunately I didn’t use the same set background to work on, I uploaded it for a second time to my iPad to work on and in doing so the alinement is slightly off composition when it fades to the close up shot. It is a shame because it causes the end of the sequence and the cycle back to the beginning to jump slightly which ruins the flow of the completed sequence.

Apart from this mistake I feel the added image gives a little more bite to the storyline and the viewers can question the eyes meaning to the storyline.

Just For Fun – Where’s Dawn

For the illusion sequence below I have adapted the ‘Where’s Wally?’ theme to a moving, ‘Where’s Dawn?’

There are five self-portrait heads hidden in the crowd. Four are the same portrait and there is a separate different bonus portrait.

I really enjoyed creating this illusion and it opens my imagination to so many things that I can create.


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