Amazing Surreal Photomontages Created Without the Use of Photoshop


Upon first glance, artist Thomas Barbèy‘s surreal photomontages may seem rather amateur when compared with all the highly-polished photomanipulations that are floating around on the Internet. However, one simple fact will make you see the pieces in an entirely different light: Barbèy shoots film and uses in-camera and darkroom techniques to create the works!

That’s right: he eschews Photoshop and digital trickery in favor of analog processes.

The photographs that go into each piece are shot using a Mamiya RB 67 medium format camera or a Canon AE-1s 35mm film SLR.

His toolbox of techniques includes combination printing, pre-planned double exposures, and rephotographing collaged photos. The final piece is turned into a single master negative that is used to make a limited number of prints.

Here’s what Barbèy says about his mental process:

Every single one of my images has to pass what I like to call the “So what?” test. If a combination of two or more negatives put together doesn’t touch me or have any particular meaning, I throw it out. I try to combine images and sometimes the results can be disappointing. A giant clock in the middle of the ocean can be an unusual image but if I look at it and say to myself, “So what?” This means it isn’t good enough. If instead, an ocean liner is going down a “funnel-type” hole and I entitle it “shortcut to China,” it takes on a whole new meaning. The picture takes you into an imaginary world where you can see the captain telling the passengers to fasten their safety belts to get prepared for the descent.

At times I come up with ideas beforehand, try to materialize them and it works. At other times, it is an accident and the ideas come afterwards, when the image is already finished and the concept has yet to be understood. It is almost as if I am learning constantly through the process of creation. I travel a lot to take photographs of different things and places. Sometimes I use an image several years later, but only when it fits, like the perfect piece in a puzzle, and completes my latest project. Some images are composed of negatives that are separated by a decade in the actual time that I had taken them and only come to life when they found their perfect match. it’s the combination of two or more negatives that they give birth to a completely unsual vision, but most of all, the title I give the final image is the glue and the substance of the piece.

One of Barbèy’s inspirations is, understandably, M.C. Escher:














You can find more of Barbèy’s work over in his website’s gallery.

(via Flavorwire)

Image credits: Photographs by Thomas Barbèy

  •!/thelonelylights Adam Cross

    some of these are very cool, great stuff

  • Kassandra Kevin

    That’s right: he eschews Photoshop and digital trickery in favor of analog processes. …

  • Dave

    I am waiting for people to start claiming that this isn’t considered photography……

  • Roger Thornhill

    The photography is real, but not necessarily his in every image…

  • Jeremy Madore

    He is using Photoshop… just the original version of it!

  • Ivan

    I think some are not possible to do in a darkroom. To much precision required, check those zebras and piano keys for example – aligning negatives like that? I can hardly imagine how. And compare his work to Jerry Uelsmann, the best in darkroom photomontage and check which ones look better, in other words, outperforming the master. Wait, outperforming Jerry Uelsmann? Really?

    Also, based on the PDN article (link posted here by Roger Thornhill) it seems that at least part of his work simply can not involve negatives because some images are taken from other photographers in digital form. Speaking of accusing him of copyright infringement: am not a lawyer, but could this be considered a “derivative work” in which case he is clean? Based on Wikipedia article looks like it. Have I missed something?

  • Wesley Fortin

    Just walked through a gallery of his work in Maui and it was truly amazing. To see the giant prints in person is even better.


    these are good.

  • DamianM

    Jerry Ulseman rip of

    and not even in the darkroom.

  • Opie

    Good lord, haven’t we already beaten this discussion to death? Just because it’s done in the darkroom doesn’t mean it’s “photography” anymore than if it were done in photoshop. I’ll just leave this here…

    “To me, anytime you make composite images you are a mixed media artist. Photography may be one of your tools but dont confuse the idea that adding photos together is pure photography.”

    As far as I remember, the overwhelming consensus on this site was to agree with the above sentiment. Let it go already.

  • pslope

    No reference to Jerry Uelsman?!?!?!??!?!?! I can’t believe!!!

  • Anthony Burokas

    He says, “…the re-photographing of collaged photographs; and/or a combination of the above. I sometimes retouch and/or airbrush the collages before re-photographing them from above with a special contraption to hold the camera in place. … I would like to think that the pictures can be appreciated without any real knowledge of their technical virtuosity. The visionary inspiration and imagination is not a technical skill learned in school but rather to my personal belief, a gift from God.”

    Yea, okay.
    They look good. But there’s no “collage” work that’s going to match the zebra stripes to keys. (Airbrushing would help a bit, but…)
    And certainly no collage that blends out the bottom of a pool into another image below it. I have little respect for someone who can’t just say they’re edited images. Virtuosity? Okay he didn’t use Photoshop. He used Gimp. Pixelmator. Whatever.
    These aren’t done in the darkroom or through collage with some airbrushing.

  • Yok Sireeras

    it’s incredible!

  • Dave

    No. Do you think I care about a consensus? If you don’t like the comment you can skip it. This is photography….writing with light. Just because the Mona Lisa is a representation of one realistic event and The Persistence of Memory isn’t, doesn’t mean that only one of them is a painting. The medium in the above examples is pure 100% photography. Photography doesn’t always happen in just 1/60th of a second noob.

  • Dave

    If he is stealing he should be punished. Foolish move on his part.

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  • Opie

    If photography is just “writing with light” then painting might as well be called photography too. And graphic design. And any other visual art-form. All of these things communicate by way of light. To use this as your only qualification is pedantic and makes you sound dense.

    If there’s one thing I love about the internet, it’s the opportunity afforded to call someone a noob without having the slightest clue how much more experienced they might really be. Go back under your rock, you bitchy little moron. How’s that for name-calling?

  • matt

    Actually, I thought the zebra one was an easy one to do. There doesn’t have to be perffect alighment, you retouch an intermediate negative to make the two to flow together.

    Have to agree on the use of others photography. Not right.

  • Dave


    In painting the image is created with…….paint! In photography the image is created with light. A painting is not created with light. Of course we depend on light to see a painting, but it wasn’t created by using light. You see how simple that was? I need to apologize, I didn’t know ahead of time you needed things to be explained in such a simplified manner. I’ll try harder to dumb it down for you from now on.

    Photography, painting, Photoshop, drawing etc are all types of graphic design. It is like this: a pigeon is a bird, but a bird isn’t necessarily a pigeon. The above pieces of work were created by using photography, which is one form of graphic design. They were created 100% by using light. Not paint and not Leggos. You’re welcome. And I don’t need to know your qualifications, your rants more than illustrate your lack of them.

  • Dave

    I am sorry you have such a narrow, uninspired and lack of imagination approach to photography. Really, I am.

  • Dave

    Maui has terrific galleries. A little surprising as the other islands seem to have such a lack of them.

  • Joanie Granola

    I agree. While I may be naive (I don’t recognize that parts of the photographs do not belong to him), it would appear that he may not have used “Photoshop” per se but had to have used some sort of digital manipulation. It’s obvious that some parts were cut and pasted, but others seem nearly impossible to create using the techniques mentioned in the article. I have nothing against composited photographs, but your comment about Jerry Uelsmann is spot on.

  • AlphaBitch

    Why does a discussion in a group of what appears to be intelligent people always have to degrade to name-calling and ego puffery? Can’t we have discussions in which we disagree without insulting one another?

  • Odd

    What on earth is amateur about them? Skewed view of production value right there :/.

  • Odd

    What on earth is amateur about them? Skewed view of production value right there :/.

  • Randolph_Knackstedt

    It was very unnecessary to say the following:

    “Upon first glance, artist Thomas Barbèy‘s surreal photomontages may seem rather amateur when compared with all the highly-polished photomanipulations that are floating around on the Internet.”

    Why did you have to downplay Barbèy‘s work? There is absolutely nothing wrong with Barbèy‘s work when compared to similar photoshop artists.