Photorealism vs. nature

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Photorealism vs. nature

From Mark Junge

Published before 2005


Evan Millner wrote: I see no problem with using photos as reference material. We forget, I think, that all artists have always availed themselves of whatever reference material they could get their hands on, to make their lives a bit easier - from the pattern books of the renaissance to drawings and notes taken by themselves or others in a naturalistic setting.

Constable did the equivalent of taking a photo - he sketched onto a glass plate held at a constant focal distance using 4 threads held in his teeth. He then copied this onto paper and annotated it with info about the colours, and then he painted his magnificent landscapes back in the studio ...

I agree. Like any other tool, photography can be used or misused, and one must be aware of its limitations of what is otherwise a valuable resource. As a landscape painter, I simply don't have the time or financial means to produce paintings en plein aire (which is time-consuming in itself), then go back to the studio to paint another piece using techniques like glazing, et al. Plus, colors that appear accurate when matched to nature in bright sunlight may appear very different when brought inside a studio or home. I once collected a soil sample on a trip to Monument Valley, AZ. It has the characteristic, beautiful rusty red-brown color when viewed in sunlight, but looks like dried blood under my dimmer interior lighting! And this would explain why I've often seen plein aire paintings that seem unnaturally dark when viewed in a gallery or museum.

Painting en plein aire is certainly a worthwhile and invaluable endeavor for any landscape artist. My beef is when some artists categorically denounce photo reference material with almost a religious - or even superstitious - fervor normally reserved for "works of the devil." All I ask of these people is: lighten up!

Mark