« A Brief Plea to Apple | Main | Preserve Your Photos! »

Wednesday, 02 May 2018



That's G-O-O-G-L-E.C.O.M


I'm not sure I get your concern, Mike. Photography is about paying attention to the light. I would be surprised if WH wasn't fascinated by a tool that let him explore the play of light in the world.

"It's one thing to find out that Norman Rockwell constructed his paintings from multiple carefully-staged photographs, as documented in the fascinating book Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera by Ron Schick (recommended—it's fascinating.)"

I love that book! It is fascinating how Rockwell tweaked his photographic subjects to make them illustrations -- that is, to imbue his painted subjects with sliiightly larger-than-life story-telling.

The genius/irony of Rockwell's illustration is that nailed-it-in-one approach to visual story-telling that I always seek in photography, but so rarely attain myself.

When I was a kid, my mother edited a book on Rockwell work for an art-book publisher, so there was a lot of it around the house when the proofs came in. This was in the 1970's and at the time I thought of Rockwell's illustrations as hoke-y, even dangerously nostalgic. But somehow the dang things wormed their way into my consciousness anyway -- like the visual equivalent to an earworm or jingle you can't get out of your head. There's a talent to producing that, however pernicious.

Rockwell's photography - as a scaffolding for his illustrations -- is therefore fascinating to me. I don't think there is a clearer way to demonstrate the genius there. Do you think there is any contemporary analog? I can't think of one, now that many images move. . . and now that painting often isn't about replacing photography, even at the level of illustration.

[Case in point: I went to the NYTimes website yesterday and they had an image of the planet Mars on the front web-page. . . rotating! I felt like I was in a Harry Potter movie, reading the Daily Prophet.]

To get back to the main thrust of your post about Winslow Homer -- I am struck by the extra significance that we give to the personal objects of famous people we admire: Churchill's fountain pen! Lincoln's stove pipe hat! Etc. Makes the ghostly less so, I guess, if you can imagine someone's hands at the controls.

Have you read "Secret Knowledge" by David Hockney? He makes a strong case that artists were using camera lucidas long before 'photography'. The difference being that they had to trace the image because they lacked a light-sensitive medium. John Ruskin was known to have taken a daguerreotypist in some of his travels and he used them in producing his drawings.

Hope to make that exhibit. For additional interest visit Homer's restored studio at Prout's Neck by making a reservation through the Portland Museum of Art. https://www.portlandmuseum.org/homer

How many megapixels? What's its ISO range?

The relationship between photography and painting is fascinating, a real love/hate thing. Prior to Daguerre, paintings and etchings were the only way viewers could 'see' remote beautiful locations. Photography's ability to precisely replicate detail and form supplanted painting in many roles, and reputedly led to impressionism as painters tried to carve out their own space. But it's clear that many tonalist and impressionist painters made heavy use of photographs. Others did not; George Inness painted many of his late works from memory and imagination, but he had four decades of direct painting experience to draw upon.
Contemporary plein air (outdoor, on-site) purists sometimes imply that using photographs as reference material is effectively a moral failure. But photos are used by many widely admired landscape and portrait painters.
Painting a picture directly from a photograph is a short cut and tends to yield a recognizable look. Some image characteristics (shadow detail and temperature, subtle color balance) are definitely better captured by eye with brush and paint on canvas. But painting on site means racing to get a rough likeness on canvas that captures the feel and flavor of the light (just what photos are weak on) before it changes, generally within 90 minutes or so. Photographs by contrast are great for recording things like details, perspective and appealing cloud patterns that can be employed to enrich a studio painting.

I wonder if they make a digital back for that?

PS the Norman Rockwell museum in Stockbridge, Mass is a worthwhile place to visit. I actually connect better with the Americana feel of Rockwell's work than I do with some of the masters works I've seen in art museums.

Got to visit Homer's home out on Prout's Neck in Maine a couple years ago through the Portland Museum of Art. Well worth the visit. Here's a photo looking out one of his windows. So cool to see where he lived and painted.


I once wrote a book about the contemporary realist artist John Stuart Ingle, who also used a large format camera, even though he was exceptional draftsman. His reasoning was that the camera could actually see and make apparent things that he didn't, or couldn't, notice in the subject. So he made larger-than-life photos, and then laid out his paintings with a pencil on canvas, and included details in his paintings that would not be obvious to the eye if they were not greatly enlarged. Artists also made great use of Edward Muybridge's photos of running horses, showing all four feet off the ground, which couldn't be seen with the naked eye. So, a camera is just another tool for many artists. Really not much more to it than that; I see no conceptual, philosophical or ethical problem at all.

Hi Mike,

I did not know that Winslow Homer was also a photographer. But a friend pointed out that he had a very photographic mind. I'm not sure what shutter speed his camera was capable of -- do you think it was fast enough to stop wave action as in the painting from Prout's Neck that I referenced here?


- Ed Bacher

Dear Mike,
That sentiment does reflect nicely on the question of how real modified digitial photographs are. Does a painting change its value when you know how it was made? Foes the value lie in the challenge of the process or the result? „Nobody cares how hard you worked for the result“ was once mentioned on your blog. Is art lessenes by the artist using tools to make it easier?
Best regards

Doesn't come as a surprise. Famous artists, including Masters of the likes of Vermeer and Caravaggio, are said to have used the camera obscura. Why, even da Vinci himself is said to have taken the help of opto-mechanical contrivances to create some of his masterpieces. This could perhaps explain the sudden mushrooming of works with a new emphasis on perspective...probably including later artists such as Winslow Homer and a host of other lesser known painters. The Internet is replete with articles on the subject: here are two links for your delectation.



Subroto Mukerji, New Delhi, India

Michael, I think you'll just have to let that one go. As you've hinted, probably a vast majority of artists have used the camera/lens in it's many forms throughout history. I grasped that at an early age, and wholeheartedly accepted the "technique". It probably comes as an efficient way to retain the initial picture that one saw and bring that back to life in some form in the studio. Even with camera obscuras, the artist could revisit the scene repeatedly in the rendering process.

Homer may have used a camera as an aid to his work? Could be true, but if it is, so what?

One of "my" artists (in the same way Homer is one of yours) is Vermeer. A strong case has been made by more than one person that Vermeer used a mechanical-optical aid in making his paintings. At first this bothered me, and I resisted the idea. But Vermeer, no matter what his method of work, had the angelic, lyrical, inventive eye of genius and a fine technique, and no revalation of his working method can remove that. So who cares if it's true or not? Seen in that light, the contention that he used this or that aid amounts to minor, meangless gossip.

You know Leonardo would have used any aid he was capable of creating. And given his unique engineering genius, he very well may have. Would anyone think less of him or his works if he had? I doubt it. Nor should they.

So if it turns out that Homer painted from photos he made with his camera, I'd say it's much ado about nothing. For me, anyway, the prospect just makes him and his works that much more interesting.

*revelation. Thanks for nothing, spellcheck.

I'm not sure what your concerned about. Cameras have been used by painters since at least the Renaissance.


The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007