Ronen Goldman: Expressive Surreal Photography

Identity Crisis

All images by Ronen Goldman. Used with permission.


” I believe a good idea and photography knowledge is the most important gear you can have.” says photographer Ronen Goldman in relation to gear, ideas, and conceptual photography. Ron hails from Tel Aviv and created the Surrealistic Pillow project. “The Images of the series combine everyday elements to create a surreal, ethereal ‘dream story’ within a single frame.” he states.

For Ronen, each image can take months of planning and execution since all parts of each image are shot on location to achieve the highest level of realism. And according to him, much of his imagery is comprised of optical illusions.


We are meant for each other

Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.

Ronen: I actually studied to be a screenwriter at university, but when I graduated I realized I’m more a visual and abstract person than what words allowed me. I found that creating art through photography was a better way for me to express myself and what I was trying to convey.

Phoblographer: What made you want to get into surreal work?

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Ronen: I feel that our subconscious is a type of reality that lives next to our waking reality. Events and things that happen in the “dream world” sometimes have the same or more importance to us than actual “real” things that happened to us. Also, sub consciousness is such in interesting and uncharted world that I find it fascinating to explore and create art trying to decipher it.

Phoblographer: Lots of surreal photographers cite insomnia or movies for the inspiration for their work, but where and how do you get inspiration?

The Voyagers

Ronen: It’s hard to follow the origins of what kinds of things get mixed up into our dreams or daydreams, but I think music for me is a huge influence. Music can get you into a certain mood and atmosphere, and I feel it really does seep into my work–some of the titles I give the images are taken from those songs.

Phoblographer: Artists like you try to creatively express themselves through surreal photography. What do you feel you’re trying to express in your images?

The Persistance of doubt

Ronen: I’m really just trying to figure out what my own brain is telling me subconsciously.
When I create art out of those fragments of dreams and thoughts it helps me realize what kind of stuff I am going through and concerned with. And like any art, I find it interesting to share and express those things with other people, and see what they make of it.

Phoblographer: So how do you go about creating these images? Is there story boarding involved? What about communication with the models on how you’re going to do them?

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Ronen: Most photographs start with a dream, or part of a dream. I try to write down different elements I can remember when I first wake up. I find that those first 15 seconds when you wake up is the only time to try and recall the logic of what I saw. Sometimes it’s just an abstract feeling, and others it is actual objects or people. I then try and figure out what the overall atmosphere of the dream was, and why it has affected me so much.

Then I conjure up an image that corresponds with that dream and create the scene in my mind.
Once that whole process is done, I switch on the photographer brain and start to try and figure out how I can technically execute the idea:

  • I sketch out the idea, and gather the props needed.
  • I show the sketch to the people involved and do my best to convey what I am going for.
  • I scout locations and times of day and research the light and how it falls on the surroundings at different times.

Once I have all the info I need, I set a date with the crew and make the image happen. Then it’s time for post processing, until I am happy with the result. This whole process can take just days, but other times can take months, and that is why I have about 20 images over a time span of eight years.

Thankfully, nowadays the whole process is much quicker.

The box

Phoblographer: How much of this is Photoshop vs. working in camera?

Ronen: Some of my photos use optical illusion to convey the message, and in order for the scene to look as believable and realistic as possible I try to get the whole thing “in- camera”. In general, I prefer how things look in reality to trying to create them in Photoshop or take them from another scene.
Of course I use Photoshop to mask in different layers of the image, correct colors, contrast and such. Photoshop has a big role of putting the pieces together, but it needs to all be captured in camera correctly for it to work.

Story Night

Phoblographer: Talk to us about the gear that you use. How does it help you get your creative vision in place?

Ronen: I started the project years ago with a simple Canon rebel 350D, and a terrible lens, yet some of the images from that time are still among my favorites. I believe a good idea and photography knowledge is the most important gear you can have.

With that said, I now use a Canon 5d Mk III with prime lenses.

My heart

Getting better camera gear allows me to display the images larger and at better resolutions when showing it at exhibitions or galleries.

Other gear I use makes shooting more comfortable and streamlined-

Stuff I use:

I LOVE my ThinkTankPhoto Airport take off roller bag–it gets all my stuff to tough locations in good condition every time. I use a Camranger with an iPad (with a Tethertools connector for connecting to a neckstrap) to share the shooting process with the crew as we are doing it

Canon 50mm f1.2 L Lens

Canon 85mm f1.8

Canon 16-35mm f2.8 L

Modifier is an Elinchrom Rotalux deep octa. Plus Sandisk Memory cards, aManfrotto 055x Tripod and a Black Rapid strap.

Phoblographer: Which if your images is your favorite? Why?

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Ronen: I had a teacher named Asaf that once told me “my best work is the next thing I am going to do” and I try to live by that, Always pushing to create something better, so I try not to have a favorite- it’s always the next one in line!

I just finished my most recent image called “Making it out alive”, and it has a lot of meaning to me.

My wife and I recently recovered from quite a traumatic period in our lives. After this difficult time, I felt that she emerged from that shipwreck of an ordeal as a real hero, while I still feel bogged down, drowning and engulfed by jellyfish, not completely out yet.
Creating this image is my way of illustrating the situation in a way I can share with others.

Creating this image was great – for the first time part of my personal series was done in collaboration with someone else.

I worked on creating a behind the scenes video of the whole process with awesome people at “lightricks” the creators of the fantastic “Enlight” app.

It’s like lightroom for your phone. So when I was done shooting I could quickly edit the photo and send it to everyone involved, which was cool.

I really like the final result; it’s very much how I imagined it.

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Phoblographer: How do you want your work to evolve in the next year and how do you plan on taking it down that road?

Ronen: As I progress as a photographer this personal project of mine is getting more complex in scope and I hope to be able to try and execute ideas I didn’t think possible previously.

I have exhibited the series in galleries in London, Paris, Singapore and Tel Aviv and would love for the series to be exhibited in more places- it’s always amazing to hear how different people from different cultures interpret and connect with the images. I am a conceptual photographer, and I have been working with ad agencies and brands to create conceptual images for their needs. They see this personal project, as a creative starting point and it’s interesting to develop ideas with other creative people and create exciting new Imagery together.

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Human Huggers

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At the chime of a city clock


Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.