Surrealist Figure Photographers of the Mid 1900s

In trying to find the earliest toy photograph, I came accross the amazing work of these two. Their work can’t be part of my early toy photography search as I’ve already found a couple that predate these, but it certainly is something to be noted nevertheless.

Horst P. Horst (1906-1999)

“I don’t think photography has anything remotely to do with the brain. It has to do with eye appeal.” – Horst P. Horst

What a name, right? Its one he gave himself, being assigned Horst Paul Albert Bohrmann at birth.

While he started out studying architecture, Horst became a photographer for Vogue in 1931 and had a show of his photographic work in 1938. One of his Vogue photos even became the inspiration for a scene in a Madonna music video.

Having just become a US citizen in 1940, Horst enlisted and worked as an army photographer in WWII. He returned to fashion after the war. His work in fashion, and with the big celebrities of the time, was hugely influential in photography to follow.

Even though he’s largely known for fashion, his portfolio is also full of interior architecture and still lives and his fashion influence is definitely visible within these. Horst began creating still lives in the 1930s, but continued them after the war and at least through the 1980s.

Guiseppe Cavalli (1904-1961)

“His work was always creative, a poetic synthesis in which – the artist once declared – the subject was completely meaningless, because “documents are not art; if they are, they are so in spite of their being documents”.” – Italian Ways

A lawyer through 1935, Cavalli got his first camera in 1939.

He established the art based, Italian photography group La Bussola (The Compass) in 1947. The group wwas founded in response to the end of war and the prior regime that held strict rules over what artists created. The photographers within this croup were inspired by the philosopher Croce and Cavalli aimed to transcend reality with his images.

In 1954 he then founded Misa Photographic Association, which was less constrained to his philosophies.

Many of his images don’t have titles, and even less are dated. But we know these were created throughout the 40s and 50s. And while he worked in a variety of genres, from landscape to portraiture, there is a large amount of still lives in his body of work, some of those feature figures and toy pieces.

In reference to his overall body of work and to paraphrase the 3rd source listed below – Hazy yet clear. A barren solitude.

Your Turn

So I’m issuing a challenge, the Guiseppe Cavalli challenge if you will.

Grab 3 items, no more. Toys or otherwise. If you are using toys though, that means no backdrops or prop flooring pieces, etc. unless they are part of your 3 item total. And find a place to set them up and photograph inside your home – the floor, the kitchen counter, a coffee table, etc. You can use whatever lighting you want – a lamp, flashlight, natural light from a window, etc.

See what you can come up with, and have fun! Try to make your image say something, mean something.

You don’t have to share it with me, but feel free to. And if you post it on social media, use #gc3itemchallenge

Here’s what I’m contibuting for now, 2 plastic monkeys and a painted coloring page, photographed on a table by the window in my dowrm room, 2012.

Circus monkey toy photograph, Tourmaline . 2012


  1. Still Lifes by Guiseppe Cavalli: Photography as Art, Italian Ways, 3/2/15
  2. Photography: the eternal rivalry between “La Bussola” and “La Gondola”, Livornossera, 9/13/17
  3. Giuseppe Cavalli: Master of Light, Studio International, Anna McNay, 7/6/12
  4. Guiseppe Cavalli, Wikipedia
  5. On Photography: Horst P. Horst, 1906-1999, photofocus, Kevin Ames
  6. Horst P. Horst, Wikipedia

Even though the work of both of these photographers is pretty important to the history of photography, I only came across them in my weirdly niche photo history research. Had you heard of them?

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