Digitally enhanced

29th February 2008 at 00:00
When modern picture-editing software meets surreal art, the results can be surprising, says Richard Finnigan

The chances are that if the early surrealist artists had had access to modern technology, many of them would have used photo-editing software to create their images.

Back then, artists such as Max Ernst and Man Ray used the best image-making know-how available, but now more sophisticated software could breathe new life into this genre. This is what gave me the idea for my Year 7 project "photo-editing and surrealism".

The pace of this work varies - some pupils will spend a number of lessons on a single image while other pupils will produce three or four in the same period of time.

I've found that with any kind of creative technology work, it's vital that you don't try to tightly control the outcomes. If you relax your parameters and let it happen, the pupils' responses will shine out through the work.

As a starting point, they can remix and combine images from a collection of well-known surrealist pictures. The idea of taking liberties with the image is something I encourage. It's a playful project with some personal outcomes - some minimal and restrained, some ornate, decorative and exuberant. It does make me wonder if there are aesthetic values mapped out in a person's gene code.

I have recently started to use the pupils' photography as a resource, and how they manipulate their own work is different. The pictures show everyday environments - each other or scenes in the school - so what they do to them is a little bit more restrained but also, in my opinion, more original, as they apply the surrealist aesthetic to primary source images. Their new versions of existing surrealist art tend to be wild and uninhibited, while their original pieces are mostly more thoughtful and constructed with greater care.

The software we are using is Serif PhotoPlus but it can't cope with larger images so next year I will switch to Corel Painter, which combines basic photo-editing with a digital painting tool.

When technology works well with any kind of creative task it presents a broad range of possibilities. The pupils are quick to exploit these opportunities and the work that they produce is often wonderfully surprising.

Richard Finnigan is head of technology at St John's School, Northwood, Middlesex. See some of the school's work at www.ictused4.comgallery.

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