Saturday, January 26, 2013

Camera Futura

I sit in the studio contemplating what makes an image a photograph and an image a painting. When may a photograph, an image, cross over and become material for painting? When should the photograph stay put, be printed, or be celebrated as a photograph?

I stare at images much the same way I stare at places. Seeking something to grab on to, something worth repeating. I've always loved photography, since before my first 110 camera (if you don't know what that is, I'm sorry). I remember my first picture - a seagull passing in front of the evening summer sun, to the west northwest of Hither Hills State Park near Montauk. I think I was 6, but maybe I was 10, so at least somewhere between those ages.

Capturing an image is a magical thing, although maybe we give it less consideration in this age of digital recording. Film was precious, you waited, you were discerning. Sometimes, oftentimes, you simply got lucky.

Painting is something else all together. As a young man I was feverishly impressed with abstraction, with composition, with layering of translucent color. Getting older, seeking challenges and a way to undermine repetitiveness, I began looking less toward abstraction and more at the world around me. That was not yet twenty years ago.

Beginning around 2005 I began using my photographs as source material for paintings. Even though this is common practice amongst most artists I come into contact with, there is still a pestilent sentiment that this is somehow misguided, lazy, and lacking true artistry. Of course, this idea is lazy and misguided and is often the view of those who do not make art themselves but like to show you how much they know.

I have a beautiful photo of the bridge to the Rockaways on my wall. It's been there for some time, and was intended to become a painting, but I wasn't feeling it, for lack of a better explanation. The original was a rather small file, taken on my old, dead Canon a80. To print it large, I needed to upsample it in photoshop. Unlike many small photos printed this large (26 x 48 inches, image below only a portion), the artifacts of the process did not undermine its printed quality. I quite like it, it's enlargement fuzziness makes the photo, and that makes it suspect as a subject for painting. And then I ask: why not put photographs out there?

This semester I am managing my regular day job running an architectural model facility for architecture students. I've also agreed to take on teaching two courses. I'm on a tear to pay off my undergraduate debt before the twenty year mark this May. Of course, there is that pesky graduate school loan, but despite that I do think this spring I will look down to see a new camera in my hands thanks to the extra pay from the extra course load. There are quite a few excellent cameras out there, from pocketable to professional, so choosing will be tough. But it is time, especially as I admonish my new students for using their phone cameras for their projects. Of course, photos don't need to be great for making paintings, but should a shot be print worthy, it's nice to have started with a great camera.


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