Artist’s Surreal Architecture Series Blends Design and Photography

Surreal architecture photography

Photographer, artist, and printmaker Tom Leighton captured Dubai and Abu Dhabi architecture in surreal photo series that masterfully blend design and photography.

Leighton, based in the United Kingdom, trained at the Royal College of Art in London where he learned how to expertly layer and manipulate photographic pieces. The central theme of his work is the environment, be it “the nightlife of foliage” in his “Variegation” series or powerful, modern structures devoid of surroundings, featured in his latest project “Loci.”

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“Although nearly all of my work involves photography as part of the process, I chose to study printmaking rather than specialize in photography,” Leighton tells PetaPixel. “I was then able to research how different print media, such as etching and screen printing, might impact on the photographic image, through the process of manipulation, stripping down and deconstruction.

“During my MA at the Royal College of Art, I was experimenting with these possibilities alongside my core work with the digital manipulation of photography,” he adds. “Aspects of each of the practices fed into and informed the other — and I think this has helped me to develop quite a malleable approach to photographic composition.”

Architecture Photos That Go a Step Further

“Loci” was developed following Leighton’s experiments with isolating and removing the context of these large structures in his photos. As he started to manipulate, multiply, and color them, “they became a less direct representation of the places and more of a distorted memory.”

It was the hazy gradient backgrounds that added a surreal and disconnected quality, that Leighton wanted to explore further in the series. For this project, he chose buildings from Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

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“My visits to these cities were quite brief but the lasting memory of experiencing these places was the ambition and diversity of the megastructures that jostle for position in the desert environment,” he explains.

“The elaborate and unrestricted design made them perfect for creating these surreal sculptural forms,” which are further distorted and their geometric precision are emphasized.

“Devoid of surroundings and context, the buildings now become sculptures that are about form rather than their function,” he adds.

From the Initial Idea to the Final Photo

In the process of this and other architecture-based series, Leighton tries to capture buildings from every conceivable angle. This often means he has to look for elevated vantage points in adjacent buildings, rooftops, and even fairground rides.

“Often different views of the same building will feature in a single composition so it is important to collect all of the pieces of my future jigsaw while I am out shooting,” Leighton explains his process. “Sometimes you can find the perfect joining component in a shot that was previously overlooked.”

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During the editing stage, Leighton doesn’t follow a strict workflow. Instead, he tries different techniques and combinations, which allows the final concept to evolve organically. Sometimes, this also means abandoning some of the drafts along the way, only for them to emerge later as part of a coherent collection.

Future Photo Projects Are Calling

Because he was restricted by pandemic travel regulations, Leighton moved his focus to local areas.

“I live in a rural area and this shift has been from architecture, to rock formations and woodland,” he explains. “There are certainly some parallels in how I approach both and I hope the opportunity to experiment has a lasting influence on my future work.”

But, with the world opening up slowly, Leighton looks forward to visiting new countries and cities to collect material for his future work.

More of Leighton’s work can be found on his website and Instagram.

Image credits: Photos by Tom Leighton.