Why is it that so many photographers aspire to be painters (or at least want their work to look like paintings?) I never understood that since I never wanted to emulate painters. I always wanted my photographs to have the presumed veracity that we attribute to photographs. The fact that they are derived from reality is what makes them photographs. Over the decades that I have worked as a photographer (and the decades I have been hearing photographers long to be like painters) I have tried to come up with another creative persona for photographers to emulate, rather than painters. Read More
I am just back from Greece where I was teaching and photographing. During my photography workshop, there were also two painting workshops run by the same organization. The “photographers” ate and drank along with the “painters,” which made for some laugh-filled meals. There also was a subtle but interesting competition/ divergence going on between the various media.
The organization running the classes in Greece is Toscana Americana Workshops, which you can find at: http://toscanaamericana.com/. Patrick and Angela, who run it, strive to create an environment that is conducive to creative growth and also a pleasant experience in terms of food, wine and accommodations.
A lot of workshop organizers strive to do this in general, but the mixing of media is not so common. One of my other favorite workshops, which also mixes media, is the Art Workshops in Guatemala. They can be found at: http://www.artguat.org/
The similarities between painters and photographers initially caught my attention. Practitioners of both of the media in Greece started with what they saw and both clearly enjoyed being outside, feasting visually on what it is they were recording. Both groups are very involved in their tools. (Photographers obviously so, but also painters also in terms of their brushes, palettes, sitting stools, paints, etc.)
One of the first divergences involved time. We photographers tended to start early and work late to get the best light. Though the painters appreciated the idea of good light in the abstract and seem to incorporate it in their work, they were not the kind of early risers that the photographers were.
The painters I encountered in the Greece (and in the Guatemala) workshop(s) often used photography as a way to record what they would later make into a painting. For them, the photograph is merely a starting point for something that will be heavily interpreted and modified as it goes through their mind’s eye. They would easily take one piece of a scene they encountered (and/or photographed) and merge that with other elements they had seen (and/or photographed.)
Though it was not common within my class, that same strategy is increasingly the way that many photographers are viewing their photographs. The explosion in the use of photo-shop is accepted as blurring the line between the painters and the photographers.
But the funny thing is that the majority of painters have not felt much of an interest in moving towards the photographer’s approach to image making, while the photographers have long been drawn towards the painters. To me, this seems ironic because when photography was first widely publicized, a famed 19th century painter, Paul Delaroche, is widely quoted as having said “from today, painting is dead!”
My interest in the idea of an image being about what is seen rather than what is interpreted, may come from that fact that unlike most photographers, I am NOT a former painter. I have no background in painting or really any other art. I was hooked on photography in high school and fell in love with the history of photography in college. So for me, photography has always stood on its own and I never saw it as a tool for another media or as a stepping-stone to another kind of expression. That is not a judgment but rather an observation of my tastes and an explanation of where they come from.
I looked at some of the work that I saw from the painters in the collective group when we shared work the final night. What I saw was interesting and often evocative. Equally importantly, it was clearly something I could not have done if my life depended on it. One painter had a journal/sketchbook that was simply breathtaking. The only redemption came when the photographers showed their work and it was equally apparent that they had done things that most of the painters clearly could not have done if their lives depended on it.
There was indeed both a bit of competition between the media and also quite a bit of divergence. I think both groups were better of for having spent time around the other in Greece. Speaking of Greece, I have posted new galleries of my student’s work from Greece, for viewing and commenting. You can see those starting at: http://thewellspoint.com/gallery/ and then scroll down to Santorini, Greece and click on the names of the various photographers.