How Illusion and Manipulation is used in Photography

The human mind alone can deceive us. Reality can be transformed in the blink of an eye and sometimes it can be a pleasant surprise. That is when an illusion comes into play. It can be deceptive, unclear, and it can toy with your perception. We have to rely on all of our senses to make an accurate observation. The most interesting sense to deceive is the eye. Optics guide the sense of sight and light, but it can be misconstrued to make a new reality. This new reality works together with optical illusions. A proper optic illusion that is presented well is what grips our mind and makes us think twice, or a “double take” if you will. Pair this with art, and we have a history of optical effects.

Today, I wanted to bring to light photographic manipulations with the work of Erik Johansson and relate it to the current exhibition at the Louvre by JR. I always find that news about the visual arts is often overlooked or difficult to find. Every newspaper and online magazine doesn’t do justice for the visual art world where there are new artworks and artists discovered everyday. There are even some news sources where the news about art is always the same and there are very few, regular updates. In this case, I connected two different forms of using photography. One artist used it to manipulate his photos to create a new reality and the other artist used photography to create a larger than life showcase. Examining photography in this sense, offers insight into a creative thinker’s mind.

Take for instance Erik Johannsson. He wants you to see everyday landscapes and situations in an unexpected way. Your eye follows a part of the photograph that he created, that appears real before your mind reassures you that the latter part of the image is an illusion of a reality. As you see in this photograph, your eye starts at the seemingly real man pulling what looks like a sheet over some tall grass. So you follow further up the image, you realize that he is instigating a winding road by pulling the concrete over the grass. Your first glance deceives you. Your second glance adjusts what your first glance missed, and your third glance gives you reasoning for the image presented in front of you.

“Go Your Own Road”- Erik Johansson creates the unexpected.

When you go through his more recent works, there is a sense of disbelief when your eye fixates on the photo. Erik’s post-processing can be a tedious cycle. He is very systematic in his photography and he echoes surrealism in many of his works, as he mentions that one of his inspirations is Salvador Dali. It is hard to process an image when your brain can not accept what is happening in the scene. There is a case study that supports the theory of conceptual information overlapping with visual objects. So, what we have learned about a situation or concept will affect what we think we perceive in an image or scene. There is more fixation or more focus towards what is comprehended versus what is impossible to happen (Huettig, B31). There is no doubt that Johannson wants the viewer of his works to believe in the impossible as seen in the image below. Illusion at its finest.

“Impact”- Erik Johansson provides a fictional reality, as well as, behind the scenes footage that showcase how this image was put together.

There are other artists where they take their work to the next level: a live exhibition. In this circumstance, we have a graffiti artist known as JR and who wants to be anonymous (graffiti is technically illegal) as he paints the world with his ideas. He wants to change the world with his works. One of his notable past works was entitled Face to Face, where he posted large scale portraits of Israelis and Palestinians on the separation wall security fence in 2007. He wanted to promote peace between the two nations by pushing forward the similarities between the two in a common place. So in contrast, Johannson wants to bring forth creative ideas in a realistic matter whereas JR wants to make his mark by bringing social issues into light. Although his works are presented as large and public exhibitions, there is no sense of illusion until now.

His most recent work encases the pyramid in front of the Louvre in Paris. It vanishes as black and white photographs replicate the entrance of the museum. What makes this illusion interesting is the initial impact at the first glance. There is a deception of color and placement. When investigated further, JR wants this display to reflect globalization in the modern age and how it divided French society in the 1980s (the same timeframe the pyramid was created). Deep set in its design, we see once again how photography can be manipulated to create a sense of another reality and how creativity can be accounted for in a visual stage. This visual stage brings onlookers together to dissect the vision seen in front of them.

The Louvre pyramid vanishes at certain angles in Paris, France. The Pyramid was designed by the architect I. M. Pei and now it is covered in a large-scale work by JR.

Art is subjective. Photography can provide a conceptual sense of evidence. When both photography and art is combined with an abstract idea, we get illusions, different realities, and perceptions.


Erik Johansson and his work

Article on Erik and Illusion in CNN style

Case study on semantics and visual objects

JR and his work

History of Optic Art

Article on JR in Economic Times

JR’s concept behind the design from British Journal Photography




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