George Byrne’s composite ‘dreamscapes’ push images away from reality

The LA-based photographer’s new series of photo-collages, Synthetica, leaves us questioning what is truly part of his urban scenes.

25 June 2024

In George Byrne’s photographs, things aren’t always as they seem. From what at first glance appears to be a series of photographs of graphic LA landscapes drenched in the city’s distinctive washed-out pastel tones, his latest collection Synthetica blends distinctly separate fragments of reality into a series of ‘dreamscapes’ through collage and manipulation. With composite images that give the impression that half of the set will soon be rolled off stage – like the brick wall in Fountain Ave propped up aside a mountainscape or the old peeling backdrop in Mural Wall, Venice concealing the paper-cutout-like palm trees behind, George’s work cleverly blends natural and artificial elements from separate photographs in his urban landscapes.

In an increasingly digital image-making age, George’s process is refreshingly tactile and analogue. All shot on medium format film on the artist’s Pentax 67 camera, the George uses his photographs as a raw material for collage, starting with low res scans of his images to begin his stages of subtraction and manipulation in a “painstaking process of trial and error”. Once these composites are carefully stitched together, they are processed into larger scans, before they become large exhibition prints. George shares: “I’m creating dreamscapes, impressions of the world I live in. I enjoy how the pictures look like paintings, they are poetic and, at times, confounding [...] I also enjoy the challenge of trying to ‘see the thing past the thing’… I use real landscapes as a starting point, then get to use my own intuition and impulse to build on them.”


George Byrne: Liquor Store (Copyright © George Byrne, 2024)

Often misjudged as AI images, his analogue cut-outs do have a kind of surreal familiar feeling to them. In the words of writer A. Moret on Byrne’s work: “Can you feel an undeniable sense of déjà vu for a place you’ve never been? In this case somehow, we can. With hints of recognisable locations from the artist’s longtime fascination with LA as a place, the cities details have, over the years, become a kind of visual catalogue for his work, later abstracted to become painterly, polished compositions of places that don't really exist – as the name Synthetica suggests. On the naming of his latest display, George says: “It was a bizarre coincidence, I named the show and started creating the images a year prior to the big AI advances [...] my work is a little bit like AI, but it’s made with a human brain, for now.”

The artist’s exhibition practice has been evolving for ten years now with Synthetica being the latest instalment in the series and with the collection on show at Show Gallery in LA until the 14 July. With this series, the artist aims to “challenge preconceived ideas about what photography can be” from his play on the rules of perception. His analogue methods carve out a small corner of the expansive photographic industry, with images that can take months and sometimes years to complete, and so he finds his work “incredibly difficult to create… that’s in part what makes it captivating, it keeps me on my toes [...] I am pushing the medium”, he says.


George Byrne: Desert Collage (Copyright © George Byrne, 2024)


George Byrne: Pink Cadillac (Copyright © George Byrne, 2024)


George Byrne: Fountain Ave (Copyright © George Byrne, 2024)


George Byrne: Assemblage Miami (Copyright © George Byrne, 2024)


George Byrne: Biloxi Mississippi (Copyright © George Byrne, 2024)


George Byrne: Mural Wall, Venice (Copyright © George Byrne, 2024)


George Byrne: Rego Sport Tuning (Copyright © George Byrne, 2024)


George Byrne: Pink Towel (Copyright © George Byrne, 2024)


George Byrne: Red Fence (Copyright © George Byrne, 2024)


George Byrne: Car Dealership, Nevada (Copyright © George Byrne, 2024)

Hero Header

George Byrne: Swan Song (Copyright © George Byrne, 2024)

Share Article

About the Author

Ellis Tree

Ellis Tree (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a junior writer in April 2024 after graduating from Kingston School of Art with a degree in Graphic Design. Across her research, writing and visual work she has a particular interest in printmaking, self-publishing and expanded approaches to photography.

It's Nice That Newsletters

Fancy a bit of It's Nice That in your inbox? Sign up to our newsletters and we'll keep you in the loop with everything good going on in the creative world.