Magical Realism

White Trees, Series 2, No. 2Wikipedia, my favorite non-authoritative source of knowledge, defines magical realism as “a genre where magic elements are a natural part in an otherwise mundane, realistic environment.”  It’s most often applied to literature (my current thinking about it stems from recently reading some of the works of Japanese author Haruki Murakami), but I was interested to learn that it is used in connection with visual art as well.  Again from Wikipedia, “in contrast with its use in literature, magical realist art does not often include overtly fantastic or magical content, but rather looks at the mundane through a hyper-realistic and often mysterious lens.”

This idea of magical realism resonates with me.  My goal with photography is to walk the fine line between reality and interpretation.  On the one hand, one of the great characteristic hallmarks of photography is the inherent realism of images made with a camera.  However, photographs that hew too closely to realism often become merely documentary or journalistic in nature.  On the other hand, image editing software such as Photoshop allow one to take a photograph and manipulate it to look like just about anything the mind can imagine.  This can result in images that look artificial, fantastical, or fake.  Walking that fine line is to achieve a balance between the two extremes, where a photograph can show both the realism of the subject it captures, as well as the magic that characterizes the less perceptible, more sublime qualities of that same subject.

As a medium, I’ve always felt that photography holds an almost unique place in the arts as a means to achieve this balance, but I never knew quite the name to give for it.  “Magical realism” is as good as any, I suppose.  I hope the image in this post, “White Trees, Series 2, No. 2,” strikes the balance I’ve described herein, and if it does, I’ll be happy to call it a work of magical realism.

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