Up in a Cloud of Smoke
The term ‘surreal photography’ seems like an oxymoron, but is the best way to describe the work of Berndnaut Smilde. The Dutch artist creates hauntingly beautiful images using incongruous elements: rain clouds inside old castles and abandoned hospitals. With the assistance of a smoke machine, he creates a transitory cloud of smoke within these unusual spaces. The result is a dreamy combination of installation art and photography. The clouds exist for a moment before dissipating; and the photographs are the only remnants of their existence. Their transitory nature is part of what makes them so transfixing.
Smilde told Smithsonian magazine how a painting from his childhood spawned part of the idea for his artwork:
My grandparents had one [a painting] with really threatening-looking clouds. I remember I was intrigued by the power of it. I couldn’t really grasp what it was, but there was something big, magical and dark about to happen in that painting. I wanted to create the idea of a typical Dutch rain cloud inside a space.
He also discussed how he saw these indoor clouds as a visual representation of bad luck.
The ominous situation is not so much represented by the shape of the cloud, but by placing it out of its natural context. In this case, it’s the unnatural situation that could be threatening.