Wednesday, February 9, 2011

My History Of Photography Part I

From A Photograph

When I first started painting a few decades ago, killer rabbits were attacking Presidents, computers were housed in rooms the size of parking garages and served by scientists in white coats and respirators, telephones were only used to talk to other people, and cameras really, really sucked.  My goal was to paint in a realist manner, so I figured I would use photographs to help me get the details I needed for my subjects.  There wasn't much debate about the use of photo aids in painting back then.  Realism wasn't popular, to say the least.  Types like Pollock, Picasso and the rest of the painters in the abstract movement didn't exactly use a whole lot of photographic reference material.  I thought it perfectly logical, and didn't think there would be any problem with using photography.

But there was a problem, I soon learned.  I found that the photos I took of things I wanted to paint looked nothing like what I originally saw.  Let me first explain that the camera I was using was a Polaroid Land Camera.  You know, the big, bulky thing that spit your photo out the front where you could then watch it develop right in front of your eyes!  Now, I don't care if it could liven up any dull party just by taking instant photos, that thing produced ghastly results.  On a three inch by three inch square, that lovely golden late autumn field I took a photo of, with beautiful maple trees surrounding it in brilliant, intense orange and red, and with the White Mountains of New Hampshire rising up in purple splendor in the far distance looked like a badly crayoned childs drawing.  The field would be a flat yellow-grey, the tiny trees a dull orange smear, and the looming  mountains had been compressed into a thin strip of blue along the horizon.  It was completely useless for my purposes.

There were better cameras around, of course.  There was the Kodak Pocket Instamatic with 110 film. At least that photo was a slightly larger three inch by four inch.  The colors were a little better, but still light years removed from how objects really looked.  But you had to ship off the roll of film to be processed.  It took two weeks to get the processed pictures back so you could be disappointed with the results.  35mm was the best, but those cameras, film and processing were way beyond what my wage of $2.85 an hour could afford.  So, photos were out.  I didn't realize at the time that it would turn out to be for the better, because when I realized that using photos was useless, I began to teach myself to observe.

I guess it's a legitimate question to ask why I just didn't go out and paint out doors?  You kidding?  If rabbits were able to attack President Carter, what do you think they'd do to me?  Actually, if truth be told, it never dawned on me to paint plein air.  In my defence, there just wasn't a whole lot of plein air painters back then, anyway.  And besides, my hero, Norman Rockwell was a studio painter.  'Nuff said.  So, I sketched and painted objects from life, alla prima, but not plein air.  But I would also spend hours and hours observing nature.  I lived in the middle of one hundred acres of dense Maine forest, so I grew accustomed to the colors, sights and light of the woods.  When I painted trees I put colors in that I had seen with my own eyes, and not through the lens of the camera.

But as we all know, technology has improved cameras greatly.  Ten years ago I bought my first digital camera, and soon found myself totally immersed in helpless addiction to photos.  More on that to come...

By the way... there aren't any killer rabbits anymore, is there?


Kay said...

I haven't seen any killer bunnies lately, I feel like you just described my camera life!!!

Susan Roux said...

Ahhh cute bunny...

Don't tell me you've abandoned your camera all together?