Photography in Painting + Painting in Photography





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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