Friday, 15 April 2011

Photography versus painting

This article was first published in my newsletter "Notes From My French Easel" – March 2011. 

Each time a new disruptive technology emerges and competes with an old one, people either fear it or embrasse it. John Ruskin, in his Lectures on art, looked upon photography with some contempt:
“I have not the slightest fear that photography, or any other adverse or competitive operation, will in the least ultimately diminish,--I believe they will, on the contrary, stimulate and exalt--the grand old powers of the wood and the steel.”

 Photograph by ardelfin -Source: Morguefile
A few years later, Degas embraced photography as a tool to capture mouvement and better understand it. He took photographs of bellerinas dancing in their studio and horses galloping at the races and used them as reference material. Photography is also a great tool for artists to judge their own work. Picasso once told Brassaï: "It’s strange indeed, but it is through your photographs that I can judge my sculptures… Through them I can see my sculptures with a new eye..."

Ken Robinson, in his book “Out of our minds”, explained very well how it takes time for a new media to generate a new art form:
“It’s an interesting feature of cultural change that for a time new technologies tend to be used to do the old thing. The early photographers tended to mimic the formal portraiture of oil painting. In due course, photographers realised that a camera made possible other forms of visual record.”

Today there is no question that photography has developed into an art form in its own right. In doing so, photography has forced painters to question the boundaries of their own art. As Picasso put it:

“Why should the artist persist to represent what the camera’s lens can capture so well? It would be foolish, isn’t it? Photography came at the right time to free painting of any literature, the anecdotal and even the subject ... In any case, some aspect of the subject now belongs to the field of photography ... Why painters should not now enjoy their regained freedom to do something else?”

The advent of digital photography in the last decades has brought together again painting and photography. The photographer can manipulate images in ways very similar to what painters do.

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