Friday, 29 April 2011

Theoretical Studies: Painting and Photography

It must have been a tremendous revelation when photography emerged. I imagine that most people would think that drawing and painting would be obsolete after that, just as many people foretold the death of the radio when TVs started to get popular.
But I think rather that the photography gave new life to paintings, especially with painters like Degas exploring what this new medium could do for him.
Edgar Degas - Blue Dancers
Since then, artists have had a love-hate relationship with photos. It is widely regarded as cheating or less genuine to paint from photos than from real life. It is true that a real model provides you with more information than a photograph does, in a certain sense you have to live with the choices the photographer has already made; light, angles and crop. But as compensation the photo gives the painter more time to work with details, to work for longer with the same subject. There's a limit on how long you can take when painting a portrait form a real model or are trying to catch the hues of a sunrise.
Since Degas time some artists have embraced the photo and the opportunities it offered.
My interests tend toward illustration and painting from imagination, but I'd still like the subject to appear as real as possible and photos as reference are invaluable for that.

Norman Rockwell famously used photos extensively in his work. They were almost a preliminary study for him. He would compose them carefully and then paint after them, but all the way adjusting as he saw fit. He was never a slave to his photographic studies.
Norman Rockwell - After the Prom
Quite often I will use photos as reference myself. I have no money to hire models for setting up whole scenes, but a photo can provide the detail to make a bird wing look authentic or it can help to work out a specific pose for a figure.

Photos are not only used as reference but can also be completely incorporated into the art. Phil McDarby for instance does a wonderful job.
Phil McDarby - Green Spindle
There is a wonderful juxtaposition in looking at what looks like a photograph but depicts something which we know cannot be real.

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