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Author Topic: If you could paint brilliantly, would you photograph?  (Read 60956 times)
Stuarte
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« on: June 19, 2009, 11:33:11 AM »
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Lately I find myself wondering whether I would have spent so much money, time and attention on photography if I could paint to express my vision.  Or putting it another way, if it were possible, would I be willing to trade all the photographic equipment I now own and have ever owned for the ability to paint pictures to a standard comparable to my photographs?

The embarrassing fact is that even at the age of seven my daughter could sketch and paint far better than I could, 40 years her senior.  It's always been a source of frustration for me that while I'm moved and inspired by what my eyes see, my hand can't even begin to express that vision.  

So discovering photography in my mid-20s turned out to be a wondering surprise.  I found that I could produce images that went some way towards satisfying the urge to express my vision - my way of seeing things.  I splashed out on cameras, lenses and darkroom equipment and spent a load of times immersed in it all.  Then along came family.  

Then along came digital.  And I'm now busily exploring the possibilities, and delighting in the even greater range of cameras, lenses, computers, software and output devices.  The investment runs to many thousands of pounds, plus a lot of time learning how to use each of the different bits of kit.  In my local photo group, even those with the simplest of equipment still use more than a moonshot's-worth of processing power to produce their images.



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Disclaimer

This musing is intended purely as a reflection on ways of expressing one's vision.

This has nothing to do with the relative merits of photography and painting in creating works of art.

It is not about commercial photography - clearly commercial photographers need to produce images quickly and in large volumes, and be able to process them
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RSL
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« Reply #1 on: June 19, 2009, 11:45:55 AM »
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Quote from: Stuarte
The embarrassing fact is that even at the age of seven my daughter could sketch and paint far better than I could, 40 years her senior.

Stuarte, Don't let that get you down. If you check out a museum with a display of kids' paintings you'll probably discover that most seven-year-olds can sketch and paint better than most 47-year-olds. The difference is that most kids just draw or paint what they want to draw or paint. They haven't yet learned what's the "right" stuff to paint, and they haven't yet been stunted by learning the rules.
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wolfnowl
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« Reply #2 on: June 19, 2009, 11:59:10 AM »
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Stuarte:  I got into photography originally, at least in large part because I couldn't draw or paint to my own satisfaction.  Thirty-five years later, I don't know that I'd give up photography even if I could paint as you describe.  Photography to me represents a different way of seeing as much as different way of recording what I see.  Painting is additive - one starts with a blank page and adds the scene.  Photography is subtractive - one starts with the scene 'as is', and then through lighting, composition, depth of field, etc. removes those elements that aren't to be included.

Mike.
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If your mind is attuned to beauty, you find beauty in everything.
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dalethorn
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« Reply #3 on: June 19, 2009, 12:21:34 PM »
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My father in law painted brilliantly from 1936 until 1992, but he also owned several cameras and left behind about 10,000 negatives and slides of all sizes.  His first interest was painting, but he saw photography as a good way to record many things - family, paintings, scenes for later perusal, many others.
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bill t.
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« Reply #4 on: June 19, 2009, 01:52:44 PM »
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It would take a thick book to express this properly, but in a few words...

Painting and photography are apples & oranges.  What painting reveals is about arrangements of color and tonality and geometry.  For many artists the subject of the painting is almost irrelevant, what matters is what emerges in the process of creating the canvas.  In the best of paintings what emerges may be stunning and illuminating, but more often than not it's all about technique and pedantry (not that photography is much different).  In the end painting is about the process of transforming a subject into something else that may or may not have anything to do with physical subject.

In my youth I was a natural painter, almost a prodigy.  But when I discovered that photography could capture the world in a literal sense I was hooked.  My visual cortex couldn't get enough of all that imagery.  Photography was electrifying to my hormonally enhanced youthful view of the world, and it looks like I'm still stuck with it minus the hormones.

So I'm too literal to want to paint.  Although many of my viewers have asked me whether my images are paintings or photographs.

But I like to look at good painting, and I admire the tiny percentage of artists who can do it well.  But bottom line...an awful painting and an awful photograph have a lot in common.
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David Sutton
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« Reply #5 on: June 19, 2009, 06:27:59 PM »
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Hi Stuarte. My experience has been different. While I had a darkroom as a teenager, I gave it up when I moved out of home. Still kept photographing with a little Rollei 35, but it was not the same as using an SLR.
Some fifteen years ago, following a series of dreams, I took painting lessons and found I could paint and do it well. While I enjoyed using oils and chalk, the problem arose when I realised I had potential. To cut a long story short, the process of practising and training while also having a full time job as a musician, which also gave me meaning and the opportunity for expression, proved much too stressful and so I gave it up. The coming of digital was an immediate revelation. In the time it took previously to set up an easel and prepare the media, I could have the structure of a photograph finished and be working on the small details of light and texture . If I had half an hour free between students, I could carry on working with it on my laptop. No more packing up because the light was going. No more dust everywhere and using toxic materials like cadmium. I could enjoy being out in the countryside in any weather and then be working on the image later in the comfort and warmth of my home.
I think underpinning much of our work is the need to be creative. Looking at a recent exhibition of painting and photography, the question often came up “why did they bother?” Well, much of the work may not have been very good, but the answer to the question lay in in the artist's heart's desire to be creative and their love of the process of doing it.
Expressing our vision, what we see in our hearts, exercising and nurturing our creativity and skills, these are things close to what it is to be a human being and so will give us much grief because we care about what we are doing. Yes, I have found photography ruinously expensive, but some of the images I have now please me. Deeply.
Best wishes, David
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kikashi
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« Reply #6 on: June 20, 2009, 12:53:04 PM »
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Quote from: wolfnowl
Stuarte:  I got into photography originally, at least in large part because I couldn't draw or paint to my own satisfaction.  Thirty-five years later, I don't know that I'd give up photography even if I could paint as you describe.  Photography to me represents a different way of seeing as much as different way of recording what I see.  Painting is additive - one starts with a blank page and adds the scene.  Photography is subtractive - one starts with the scene 'as is', and then through lighting, composition, depth of field, etc. removes those elements that aren't to be included.

Mike.
I feel just the same, but then I couldn't put together a recognisable sketch if my life depended on it. I think I'd carry on with photography if I suddenly acquired the ability to paint, but then I vehemently maintain that I'd carry on with my rather taxing, stressful day job (which I love) if I won the lottery.

Who knows?

Jeremy
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Czornyj
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« Reply #7 on: June 21, 2009, 04:20:35 AM »
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Quote from: wolfnowl
Painting is additive - one starts with a blank page and adds the scene.  Photography is subtractive - one starts with the scene 'as is', and then through lighting, composition, depth of field, etc. removes those elements that aren't to be included.

I came to the identical conclusion. As an academy of fine arts student I've been taught to draw, paint and photograph, but apart from similarities, I find them to be completly different methods of artistic expression, "additive" and "substractive" is a perfect description. I think that in early times photography had tried to mimic painting, but after a short time it went it's own way.

On the other way I would encourage everyone to experiment with paints - just for fun and pleasure. It's not as hard as it looks in the beginning, and we can achieve some effects we would never achieve in photography - in oil painting the colours are so clean and vivid, and we have the ability to create three dimensional textures. There's also some primal experience to have contact with paint and leave the trace on the canvas. After my studies I stopped active painting, but I still like to paint something from time to time just to open my painbox, touch, mix the paint and smell the scent of turpentine...
« Last Edit: June 21, 2009, 04:30:33 AM by Czornyj » Logged

Rob C
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« Reply #8 on: June 21, 2009, 09:32:05 AM »
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Quote from: Czornyj
I still like to paint something from time to time just to open my painbox, touch, mix the paint and smell the scent of turpentine...



Tell you what, come over to Spain and you can have the distinct pleasure of applying the varnish to all the bleedin´ wooden shutters that looked beautiful when I bought them but have driven me to despair every year since; you will be able to sniff all the turps that you crave. The older I get the larger and more heavy they seem to become.

Seriously, though, you are right: painting is visceral but photography is not.

Rob C
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RSL
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« Reply #9 on: June 21, 2009, 12:05:38 PM »
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Quote from: Rob C
Seriously, though, you are right: painting is visceral but photography is not.
Rob C

Rob, I don't agree and neither did HCB. If you can find a copy of The Mind's Eye, you'd probably find the first half of the book a good read. The fact that most people don't understand that photography has to be visceral in order to be good helps to explain why I see so much dreadful photography around.
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Stuarte
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« Reply #10 on: June 21, 2009, 04:49:04 PM »
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Rob, I don't agree and neither did HCB. If you can find a copy of The Mind's Eye, you'd probably find the first half of the book a good read. The fact that most people don't understand that photography has to be visceral in order to be good helps to explain why I see so much dreadful photography around.

I'm intrigued by the use of "visceral" in the two posts above.  "Coming from the gut" is my understanding of the word.  

I think with the best of my photos - those I like the best, at least - they either come from or prompt a quickening of the heart/spirit.  I can relate to a kind of fluttering excitement in and around the solar plexus area when some really right is happening in a conversation or an interaction; we're touching on something true and important.

Feelings more visceral than that - lower down the abdomen - are connected with fear and anxiety in me.  I've even had some health issues in that area.
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tom b
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« Reply #11 on: June 21, 2009, 08:41:43 PM »
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Painting and drawing aren't mutually exclusive. For me painting and photography both help me see the world better.

The good thing about the two is that you can photograph during the day and paint at night.

I use my photography as a reference for my paintings. The interesting thing is that selecting photographs for painting isn't obvious. Photographs that look good don't always make good paintings. Painting from simple photos can sometimes be very difficult as you have to introduce fictions to explain things as the images get larger. Painting from complicated photographs can be quite abstract as you have to invent was of representing complex details in a simple way.

As to HCB he was trained as an artist and went back to painting and drawing in his later years.

Cheers,
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Rob C
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« Reply #12 on: June 22, 2009, 02:57:43 AM »
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Quote from: Stuarte
Feelings more visceral than that - lower down the abdomen - are connected with fear and anxiety in me.  I've even had some health issues in that area.



This is not the place for discussing sexual hang-ups. This is the place for discussing sexual hang-ups. How lo can you go and remain visceral?

Rob C
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Rob C
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« Reply #13 on: June 22, 2009, 03:11:13 AM »
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Quote from: RSL
Rob, I don't agree and neither did HCB. If you can find a copy of The Mind's Eye, you'd probably find the first half of the book a good read. The fact that most people don't understand that photography has to be visceral in order to be good helps to explain why I see so much dreadful photography around.


Well, Russ, perhaps I was being slightly extreme there - but if photography is visceral, then possibly at the tripping of the shutter it is and, at a slight stretch, when deciding that a print is ready to be pulled from the dish.

Never in a month of Sundays at the computer. Why? Because there is simply too much time taken and able to be taken over looking, tweaking, going back, changing this, changing that and then even going back to square one. There is not the moment when the mind yells Yes!, it mutters only not bad, getting there, great for now but I can change it later, or similar. In essence: no decisive moments!

The trouble with extrapolating to the point where you associate much bad photography with lack of visceral feeling is that maybe other people´s visceral emotion leads them exactly to the point where the poor photo is made! No accounting for another´s gut instinct!

Rob C
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Stuarte
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« Reply #14 on: June 22, 2009, 03:49:21 AM »
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Quote from: Rob C
This is not the place for discussing sexual hang-ups. This is the place for discussing sexual hang-ups. How lo can you go and remain visceral?

Rob C

Make your mind up Rob - is it or isn't it the place for discussing sexual hang-ups?      

Visceral = intestina/guts.  One down from that is inguinal - not what I was referring to, as well you know you mischief maker.
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Rob C
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« Reply #15 on: June 22, 2009, 04:36:05 AM »
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Quote from: tom  b
Painting and drawing aren't mutually exclusive. For me painting and photography both help me see the world better.



This is an often stated view. However, there has to be doubt as to whether it is really a positive statement or otherwise.

In the case of landscape, it can be either that you learn to see the world as a better place than you had imagined or, regrettably, as the opposite: a place ravaged by the influence of man. Or perhaps tom b means neither, more that painting/photography offer a means/need for observation.

Regarding people photography, all I can really say after spending my life in pursuit of the beautiful is this: there is one hell of a lot more neutral than either beautiful or ugly, and of the latter two, the beautiful are very much in the minority. Would I have been happier not knowing this? Would not having looked that carefully be a less painful or discouraging experience? I can only offer more questions on this and certainly no definitive (for me) answers.

Rob C
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Rob C
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« Reply #16 on: June 22, 2009, 04:40:06 AM »
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Quote from: Stuarte
Make your mind up Rob - is it or isn't it the place for discussing sexual hang-ups?      

Visceral = intestina/guts.  One down from that is inguinal - not what I was referring to, as well you know you mischief maker.


Stuart, were I still on speaking terms with Kinsey, Krafft-Ebing et al I might be able to answer or simply make up my mind. Alas, I have to leave it as  gut emotion sans mental certification one way or the other.

;-)

Rob C
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RSL
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« Reply #17 on: June 22, 2009, 10:37:02 AM »
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Quote from: Rob C
This is an often stated view. However, there has to be doubt as to whether it is really a positive statement or otherwise.

In the case of landscape, it can be either that you learn to see the world as a better place than you had imagined or, regrettably, as the opposite: a place ravaged by the influence of man. Or perhaps tom b means neither, more that painting/photography offer a means/need for observation.

Regarding people photography, all I can really say after spending my life in pursuit of the beautiful is this: there is one hell of a lot more neutral than either beautiful or ugly, and of the latter two, the beautiful are very much in the minority. Would I have been happier not knowing this? Would not having looked that carefully be a less painful or discouraging experience? I can only offer more questions on this and certainly no definitive (for me) answers.

Rob C

Rob,

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty..." If you believe Keats was right, that leaves a lot of room for things other than what the eye, on first glance, reports as "beauty." Is this little girl beautiful? She's growing up in Vietnam in 1965. The war is going on all around her and, I think, her expression reflects the uncertainty in her life. Is this face, with its reflection of uncertainty "neutral," beautiful or ugly? I'd opt for beautiful because that little face tells me something important. I can't tell you what it is because I can't put it into words, but my soul knows.

[attachment=14755:The_Frown.jpg]
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RSL
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« Reply #18 on: June 22, 2009, 10:49:01 AM »
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Quote from: Rob C
Well, Russ, perhaps I was being slightly extreme there - but if photography is visceral, then possibly at the tripping of the shutter it is and, at a slight stretch, when deciding that a print is ready to be pulled from the dish.

Never in a month of Sundays at the computer. Why? Because there is simply too much time taken and able to be taken over looking, tweaking, going back, changing this, changing that and then even going back to square one. There is not the moment when the mind yells Yes!, it mutters only not bad, getting there, great for now but I can change it later, or similar. In essence: no decisive moments!

The trouble with extrapolating to the point where you associate much bad photography with lack of visceral feeling is that maybe other people´s visceral emotion leads them exactly to the point where the poor photo is made! No accounting for another´s gut instinct!

Rob C

I don't know, Rob. I spent a lot of time in darkrooms, pulling prints from the dish, and I can't really see much difference between that and what happens on the computer. Given a fully equipped darkroom and enough time, I'd venture to say you can do just about anything to a photograph you can do with Photoshop. I don't think either darkroom work or computer work ever is visceral. It's mostly grunt work. The visceral part comes at the moment you recognize that "what's before me is a picture!" If it's your mind telling you that, it's likely that what you'll produce will be either pretty junk or an academic art school exercise. But if it's your gut telling you "for god's sake, shoot now!, you may get lucky and produce something worthwhile.
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Rob C
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« Reply #19 on: June 22, 2009, 04:16:07 PM »
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Quote from: RSL
I don't know, Rob. I spent a lot of time in darkrooms, pulling prints from the dish, and I can't really see much difference between that and what happens on the computer. Given a fully equipped darkroom and enough time, I'd venture to say you can do just about anything to a photograph you can do with Photoshop. I don't think either darkroom work or computer work ever is visceral. It's mostly grunt work. The visceral part comes at the moment you recognize that "what's before me is a picture!" If it's your mind telling you that, it's likely that what you'll produce will be either pretty junk or an academic art school exercise. But if it's your gut telling you "for god's sake, shoot now!, you may get lucky and produce something worthwhile.


Fair enough, Russ, but that wasn´t my experience of darkroom work, at least, not of the stuff that I really wanted to shoot.

And as importantly, before computers there wasn´t this urge to go on and on until one lost sight of the original shot. Other than some oddballs who might have derived a perverse masochistic pleaure from the above, making b/w prints - at least in fashion - was never about extracting the very last ounce of detail out of a corner or edge of a garment - it was - for me - all about catching the mood. If you wanted the other, you could always shoot a material swatch, no model required. And that mood just leaped out of the dish and kissed you when it was there. Of course, one was a lot younger at the time; I remember having to be very careful around mirrors - they had a tendency to leap at me too.

Frankly, the same dedication to nth degree control is what I think has ruined much of the girl photography that currently goes under the name of glamour, a title I hate, not least because its present connotations spell anything but glamour for me. Glamour was, as I might have mentioned before, Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner, Susan Hayward and, obviously, the era before their time too. As with my Golden Age, it all started to go wrong mid-sixties with the crass displacing the class. As with that other term for bright, breezy, happy which I dare not print in case I get struck off - the word has been hi-jacked, stolen, perverted and generally corrupted beyond recognition.

But I certainly didn´t look on darkroom work as "grunt work" at all - it was the ultimate step between the idea and the fact. And the cheque later did no harm either, if one must be totally realistic...

Ciao

Rob C
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