Saturday, December 4, 2021

Why Bother Copying a Photo?

After watching yesterday's YouTube video, R.H. asked a fair question: "Why waste time and energy (and potentially vision health) painting something that looks exactly like a photo when you can simply look at the photo?"

Answer: I'm not making something to look at, nor am I particularly interested in being a copyist of 2D images. It's not even that great a copy. Instead I enjoyed learning from the experience of using a comparator mirror. I think of it as a form of visual play. It built my confidence in capturing a slice of reality using straight-ahead paint, and who knows? That mileage may help me in my observational painting and my imaginative work. 

After all, on of my specialties is painting realistic images of things that can't be photographed, so I have a particular interest in understanding how the camera "sees" and how we humans see.


R. A. Davies said...

I like what Anthony Waichulis says to people who ask why bother painting realistically when you could look at a photograph. I paraphrase: It seems that people who dislike my trompe l'oeil paintings are really angry that they don't have the skills to do what I do. What do you do about that? They could learn, I guess. But that takes effort, training, etc.

R. A. Davies said...

I have tried maybe ten, eleven times to post comments and this damned set of hurdles has bested me every time. I hope this gets through.

R. A. Davies said...

Richard Davies

Still trying to comment after 12 times failing due to bizarre and inexplicable hurdles.

James Gurney said...

Richard, thanks for persisting and sorry for the troubles with the interface.

I wonder if Google is having issues, because I'm getting a notice on my Gmail that: "Gmail is temporarily unable to access your Contacts. You may experience issues while this persists. Learn more"

About your comment, yes, there may be some jealousy about skills involved. At the same time critics of photo copying may rightly observe that copying a photo involves some mechanical skills. But playing a piano or ballet dancing requires some mechanical skills too. There's plenty of room for artistry on top of any technical practice.

R. A. Davies said...


I think the google commenting system is not very well thought out. They should add one extra bell or whistle: when someone hits the submit button, a notice should appear to indicate that your comment had been submitted and that upon moderation will be published. That would clear up things.

On the "copying a photo" issue, I think it is very nearly impossible to copy a photo. I use photo reference because most people cannot sit for the hours required to produce a portrait. Also, it costs me more time to do the work. Looking from the photo to the canvas is pretty much like looking at live subject except that photos never, and I mean NEVER, captures the colors and range of lights and darks that we can see. I must take dozens of photos of the subject. Photos for the dark areas adjusted on the spot for what I actually see. Photos for the mid tones, Photos for the highlights. Video of the person moving and talking. And each photo must be adjusted on the spot for color correction. Again, no camera gets it right. Ever. Sometimes the camera cannot adjust to the actual color and I must make written and/or painted color notes. I think that often times the placement, angle, editing, adding omitting of details, framing, etc. while taking source photos is just as much a part of the art as the actual painting. And, while painting, after the basic likeness is achieved, there is a long process of micro changes to the subject's facial features. We humans see faces and their expressions more acutely than anything else--it is crucial for survival. Because of this, minute changes can cause huge emotional swings in a viewer's understanding of a portrait.

Ultimately, the only people who have a problem with using photographs are purist realists or artists who cannot make their brush do what their mind wants them to do. Also, I sell paintings. They don't. There is that.

rock995 said...

"..critics of photo copying may rightly observe that copying a photo involves some mechanical skills. But playing a piano or ballet dancing requires some mechanical skills too. There's plenty of room for artistry on top of any technical practice." So true!

anticontent said...

I’m not sure it’s that clear cut- it’s not only a jealousy thing, or a selling thing.

I can and do paint very ‘realistically’ but find it incredibly boring to do- so I only do it every now and again to keep those skills sharp- I’m more interested in using technical skills to add something the photo can’t provide on its own. It’s like a musician- if they are overly technical they are so very boring to listen to, there isn’t any feeling to what they do. It’s the same with art- if it’s too technical I find it boring and lacking the human touch.

Tobias Gembalski said...

For me it is not so much someone using photographs, rather the audience applauding the most photorealistic artwork, which often lacks the human touch.