Our Surreal World

Archinect posts some wild images of a "tennis" match staged on the Burj Dubai's helipad, from an article at This is London. Obviously a publicity stunt (though more literally too, because I don't see any harnesses on them, and the safety railing seems pretty inadequate for such a high altitude) for a tennis tourney in Dubai, the hotel, and the city itself, Andre Agassi battles Roger Federer for "King of the Skyscraper."

Missing image - surreal1.jpg
Photo by Getty Images

But on a serious note, the image is rather surreal, as alluded to on the Archinect post. Outside of the obvious fact that two pros are volleying 700 feet above the beach on lush, bright green grass in a desert climate, I think what fools us is the background. The environment veils the water, beaches and city in a haze, so the contrast between background and foreground is great, making it appear like two images melded together.

A similar fooling of the mind occurs in Olive Barbieri's site specific_roma 04, below.

Missing image - surreal2.jpg

On display as part of the MCA's Universal Experience exhibit, the film was taken by the artist from a helicopter flying over parts of Rome, here the Colosseum. But it's shot in such a way that the edges become blurred, flattening the context to the point that we think we're looking at a miniature. Paying close attention to the film, though, one notices that the cars and people below are moving. Even though this verifies that we're looking at the real Rome, it's still hard to shake the thought of a model when looking at Barbieri's imagery, just like it's hard to believe that Agassi and Federer are playing a leisurely game of tennis on a helipad.


  1. Greta stuff today Johnny boy. Your exactly right about the Rome image. Cheers!

  2. Great post -- is that a Miklos Daal photo?

  3. Looking at Getty Images thorough web site, it appears that David Cannon took the shot (from, I assume, a helicopter). Here's the link.

  4. Ah, sorry - I meant the bottom image....

  5. The bottom image is a still from Olivo - whoops, spelled it incorrectly in the original post - Barbieri's film. Take a look here.

  6. There are a few other photographers I've seen use the view camera blur effect to make big things look small-- one of my favorites is San Francisco photographer Sean McFarland.


  7. Josh - Wow, those are great, and very similar to Olivo's film in effect. Thanks for the link. Being an amateur, point-and-click photog, I can't really say what it takes to pull this off. Any ideas?

    On a side note, I like your stuff, especially the Flatland series.

  8. There's at least three ways to get the selective blurring effect that would work. One is to use a large format view camera, in which you can change the angle of the lens plane in relation to the film plane


    This is how architecture photographers correct perspective when shooting tall buildings. Used in a "wrong" way, it can also cause blurring of areas of the image.

    They could also use Photoshop. If done carefully enough the blurring can be made to look "natural" and not have that hazy look that gaussian blurring in pshop sometimes has.

    The last way would be in the darkroom while printing. Propping the paper up at an angle in the enlarger could produce the effect.

    Thanks for your comments about my artwork by the way-- now if only the rest of the art world could get over their utter fear of digital 2-D non-photographic art...

  9. Looking at Sean's work again he could also use a Holga-style cheap plastic lens camera and fuck with the position of the lens to give it that kind of woozy 100 year old photo look...

  10. John, did you see the photos of Tiger on Burj Dubai? I think Getty's probably got them too, but the five on this page give a nice sense of scale:


  11. Heard about Tiger but hadn't seen anything. I wonder if the developer/architects foresaw this use in the design and locating the building on a man-made "island"? If not, it's definitely something they're exploiting.

  12. Josh - Thanks for the info, or should I say lesson. Looking at those photographs, I was hoping it was done in the camera or in the darkroom. I have faith that there's still effects that can't be adequately achieved only using Photoshop.


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