Monday, February 14, 2011

My History Of Photography Part III

When I talk about the evils of using photos in paintings, I really don't mean that after years of using them I have now found religion, and that my God is better than your God.  It's just that, as the saying goes, "all things in moderation".  And that's my problem; I go way overboard on moderation.  I know that photographs can be a huge help in painting.  After all, they can do things for us that makes our task of painting that much easier.  They can help us keep our values in scale. For instance, the brightest spot on any printed photograph can never be brighter than the white of the paper it's printed on.  And we have a tube of color for that.  Conversely, Nature gives us such dazzling whites and color that no tube of paint can hope to match.  My problem was that I found myself not just relying on photographs for details, but I started to mimic photographic colors.

The painting above was done early in my use of photos.  I still had the ability to imagine color back then.  The scene is of Cousin's Island in Casco Bay, Maine.  The photo didn't have a fog bank, or clouds in the sky.  The sun was still relatively high in the sky.  I made changes to the scene based on my observation of that beach over the course of many summers.

The painting below is of an old barn (since torn down) in Durham, Maine on a late September afternoon.  It's another 40% photographic reference, and 60% imagination.

I changed the barn and trees, the color of the field and the sky.  All of the elements were actually there, but I rearranged them into a different composition.  So far, so good.  But then over the course of years, I got too "photo bound."

I have always known that cameras distort perspective because of it's convex lens.  What that does is enlarge the foreground which simultaneously diminishes the background.  So a lovely meadow with a looming mountain range in the distance becomes a truncated field with a thin stripe of hills across the horizon.  Kinda like this:

Let's say this is a scene you stumble upon out in the country.  A cow resting under a big shade tree with a barn and pond nearby.  In the distance is a blue band of mountains.

   You like it and want to take a picture of it to paint later.  What the camera does to it is this:

It's an exaggeration, but not by much.  The barn looks like a hundred miles away, and the mountains have disappeared.  All because of the properties of a camera lens.  If you want to make the picture look right, you need to adjust the perspective.  I knew this was a drawback with photos, so I could fix it.  But as camera technology got better and better, I copied too much.  Here's a scene from my old home of Cundy's Harbor, Maine.

Here's the painting I made from it;

Gee, do you think I used a whole lot of imagination with this?  Of course, I couldn't very well have set my easel up in the middle of the harbor now, could I?  And that's another good thing about photographs-- you can get views with them that are impossible to get lugging your gear around.  But I have spent too long observing nature through the camera lens, and I have forgotten to use my eyes. 

So where does that leave me with photographs?  Am I going to stop using them? 

Hell no!

But I am going to do more outdoor color sketches so that in conjunction with a photo, I can get a more accurate and realistic painting.  Sort of like going back to my beginnings. 

Nothing like art to make you take a long journey only to find that where you end up is the place you shouldn't have left.



Kay said...

This has been a good series! It is hard to get people to not believe in the photograph and believe their eyes instead!

Susan Roux said...

This has been an interesting journey for you! I have to agree, you'd become married to your photos. It is a danger. Fortunately for me, I love color too much and have always infused it into my work, more than the camera gave me. Lately there is very little of my photo references that make it to my canvas. Have fun exploring your imagination again. That barn painting was wonderful.