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10_KirstyMackay

 

 

 

Two of my favourite painters used photography in their process. Richter I have always known, uses photographs as a staring point for his painting. It now looks likely that Vermeer used a kind of camera obscura, together with a mirror to accurately paint the tones that were reflected through his lens. His paintings glow like Kodachromes. According to the film ‘Tim’s Vermeer’ this technique enabled him to create that glowing effect in his work. His work differs from that of his contemporaries. The way he captured light and tone looks filmic.

 

Now I recognise the photography in their work, I can see why I have been drawn to these two artists.  I have often thought that I would like my photographs to look like a Richter. Now I can pinpoint that it is their use of optics and prints that has caught my attention.

In photography we use the elements in front of the camera to create our compositions, we can’t just make them up – draw or paint them wherever we wish. Often we try to tease these physical forms into a composition that aligns perfectly; in the same way that we would have chosen where to place them, if they were on canvas. This takes skill, patience, timing, openness and chance. It’s not an easy job. It take mastery, but it’s what many of us strive for. It’s the difference between a good photograph and a great photograph and what I have found to be the most fustrating aspect of photography. When photographer Jim Mortram, was asked how he decided exactly when to press the shutter he says “It’s when I see the painting”.

The photograph above is one of my images, taken with an iPhone, that reminds me of a painting. In this instance, it’s because the texture is reminiscent of brush strokes. The portrait below is a photograph I made at a second sitting with Jo and Louis. When I was taking it the light made me think of Vermeer, but another photograph also came into my mind. A portrait by Tom Hunter of a girl opening a possession order in front of a window. I assume that Tom Hunter’s image is a homage to Vermeer’s ‘Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window’. I didn’t know these two portraits were connected at the time of taking the photograph. I wasn’t setting up the shot with the idea of copying either portrait. This image evolved of its own accord, but with the whisper of these two portraits somewhere at the back of my mind.

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With only three days left to enter the Taylor Wessing photographic portrait prize, I am still deciding what to enter. I have one definite portrait in mind and one other that I’m not so sure about. The Taylor Wessing has the most complex entry system of all the competitions I’ve entered. All the others accept digital files. Taylor Wessing requires A3 prints, minimum. Here’s what this involves for me.

– Entry fee of £26 per image.

– A trip to London with my negs, to my printer to get the prints made and approved that same day. No one in Bristol prints C-types from negs these days and there is no point entering with an inferior quality print.

– the size A3 (not a photographic paper size) needs to be printed on 24×20 paper costing £105 +VAT, really hoping the lab will do me a deal.

-Courier fee £30 to pick up the prints, packaged to exact requirements, the day before I leave to go on holiday. Delivered during the exact dates and office opening hours. I could use special delivery, but they don’t guarantee delivering within these times and not on Saturdays.

So even if I manage to get a cheep ticket to London, we are talking hundreds of pounds to enter two images. This expense makes taking a risk less likely. The chances are your going to play it safe and it makes me wonder if this effects the overall entries.

I have lost count of the number of times I’ve entered the competition, but I think this year could be my 7th attempt. So why bother with the expense and complicated entry system? Because the majority of my work are portraits and TW is the largest, most high profile, photographic portrait prize in the country. It’s preferred style may be traditional and lack surprises, but it’s always controversial. We love it and we hate it and it is an institution in itself.

This year, for the first time I’ll also be entering Portrait Salon. Now in it’s fourth year, Portrait Salon only accepts the rejected images from TW -genius! With around only 60 images selected by TW and 6,000 rejected each year the PS is a really high calibre selection of work, more interesting that TW, and more in line with current photographic practice.

So this year I can spread the expense across two competitions. I can afford to take more risk and I feel like playing a wild card along with my safe bet. But the gamble this year feels more like betting each way.