Photographic Mixed Blessings

I look at the photos of each stage of my current painting and in each photo I can see a completed work that I could have left alone – but on the canvas those stages were clearly incomplete. Photos rarely capture a painting in a true light. In my experience they either look better in the photo or worse. They never seem to be a true image.

The human eye and the camera “eye” have very different capabilities. The human eye continually adjusts in focus and aperture to suit prevailing light conditions. It can pick up more subtlety.

The camera can only capture a fixed moment of light. A skilled photographer with the right equipment can take advantage of that limitation to create a desired effect. But in doing that, even a quality photo will not necessarily depict the true qualities of a painting being recorded.

I experienced an example of this at the National Gallery in Canberra. They had a Roy Lichtenstein painting on display. I’ve seen a lot of his work in books and have admired the precision of his technique. But in person, seeing his work “in the flesh”, his lack of precision becomes clear.

And while I haven’t witnessed it myself, I heard the same kind of claims about Mondrian’s work.

Photographing my paintings can therefore be a frustrating exercise, knowing that some of them are NOT as good as they may seem through the camera and that others in my opinion are much better than a photo suggests.

Those images that “improve” the appearance of the different stages of my painting are a mixed-blessing. While they can illustrate the progress of something I’m doing – they can also give me the impression that I’ve taken a painting one step (or more) too far.


3 thoughts on “Photographic Mixed Blessings

  1. Yes, Mondrian close up is very patchy and messy–and unstraight, even though he used masking tape for his straight lines. He cheated! (So did van Gogh and Vermeer). The most amazing is Constable’s “Hay Wain” in the British Art Gallery in Trafalgar Square. They have placed a sofa at exactly the right distance away. You lean back, and it’s the lovely English rural scene. You lean forward and it dissolves into a mess of splodges and blobs. Don’t ask me how Constable did it. Genius has its secrets us lesser mortals can only marvel at and enjoy.

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