Photography and art

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This topic contains 5 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  Ian McNab 6 years ago.

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    Ian McNab



    A new exhibition at London’s National Gallery hopes to prompt a conversation between photos and paintings of similar subjects. Does it work? Jonathan Jones of The Guardian has his doubts, as you can see from this thought-provoking (and provocative) article.

    Jones also has a detailed look at twelve of the exhibits (both photographs and paintings), and gives a short audio analysis of some of the key elements, here.

    What do you think of Jones’s views?



    meg cumming

    Ian this is the third time I’ve started writing on this piece,so listen up please “I’ll talk to you tomororrow on this subject” becuase I’m refusing to type for ages and then get kicked out.

    • This reply was modified 6 years ago by  meg cumming.


    The web presentation is well done – can we have all those features Ian?

    I guess the connections between the photographs and the paintings is fairly weak in a lot of cases but it still makes an interesting exhibition. The variety of work is wide too which is good. I would certainly like to see it and ponder on the difference between paintings – where the artist is in full control of the content and photographs, which often pluck ready-mades. When photographs are contructed – like Fenton’s still life there is still the stricture of reality because of the physical nature of the process of photography. The artistic aspects of photography are its own and it is a mistake to “copy” paintings as they once did. I think though that studying the work of painters can inform your photography in many ways and it is a good thing to do.


    Ian McNab

    Meg >>> You’re probably one of the best qualified people in the Club to contribute to this discussion! If you only talk to me, no one else will benefit from your knowledge and understanding. (And we don’t do kicking out!)

    What Jonathan Jones says in his article is both provocative and thought-provoking. I started the discussion here so that we could have a think together about what he says – especially what he says about photography. So I’d love to hear your comments on this, and I’m sure others would, too.

    John >>> Give me The Guardian’s budget for web development, and I’ll see about us doing web presentations like theirs! 😉

    • This reply was modified 6 years ago by  Ian McNab.

    meg cumming

    Johnathan Jones’ article in the Guardian about the exhibition in the National Gallery’s’ certainly thought provoking, but I do feel this man is doing a great disservice to all those photographers who are fine artists themselves and work steadily to prompt photography as art.

    I remember a conversation between either Parky or Clive Anderson and Lord Snowdon about photographers and photographs in a gallery setting. I was amazed when Lord Snowdon stated that there was no place for photographs in a gallery environment. This thought coming from a man who has had some major retrospectives of his own: I don’t know if he was saying that because he felt that he personally was not artistic or special enough to warrant the acclaim. This is to his credit but could undo all that had been done to foster greater artistic understanding with Joe public.

    But back to Johnathan Jones, he seems to be giving a very biased view on photographer in general. The idea of high and low brow art will always be a contentious subject. As I well know when at art school I decided to major in photography over my love of drawing. I and other students when facing the faculty to discuss our work, had to validate our practical work against any Old Masters work that we had used as research matter and woe betide any of us who got it wrong. In fact it was standard practice for us to give credit to those who had gone before us.

    I’ve seen many of Richard Billigham’s and Collingshaws photographic work, both have given nod to the old masters in their work and it adds resonace in their work and the new contemporaries of Brit Art scene. As John says copying is not exactly what we should be after, but to use these masters as research tools is the best foundation we can give ourselves. Here we can not only get subject matter, but also technical/technique ideas as well. Think of Caravaggio’s Chiaroscuro and you can see the connection in any contemporary artist/photographers work. I should also say that I saw Bill Violas “Passion”, a very moving photgraphic lifesize cabinet in the Walker Art Gallery last, based on the religous alterpieces of the great artists, this piece was beautiful and moving to behold. It was of course placed in the 15th and 16th century religous art gallerys,a more fitting place if any. So much for Mr Jones.

    But I before I blether on to much just remember that if we let Johnathan Jones epistle influence us too much we may not have invented the wheel nor had digital photography


    Ian McNab

    Yes, Meg, to dismiss photography wholesale as Jones does seems blinkered, doesn’t it?. However, I was intrigued this morning to see a hugely entertaining and exuberantly knockabout review of the same show by the sainted Brian Sewell (click to read it). He’s immensely critical – as only he can be! – of putting painting and photography in the same box (or gallery show, as here), and inviting us to compare them as if they actually were comparable. Photography comes off very badly in a straight comparison with painting; but Sewell is full of praise for photography when it’s doing what it properly does best.

    The trouble is caused by comparing photographs and paintings as if they were essentially equivalent. The argument seems to go “Paintings are art; paintings are visual images; photographs are visual images; therefore photography is art (of the same sort as painting)”.

    Of course, that’s nonsense. Painting is a process of building up an expression of the painter’s perceptions, feelings and understandings about the subject into a composite, integrated whole. It is essentially ‘integrative’. Photography, in contrast, is essentially and radically analytic – isolating and recording one very specific rectangular section of the visual world as it stood at that instant in the cosmic flux of time when the shutter was pressed.

    This difference seems to me fundamental. It means that while photographs may be art, they are definitely not the same sort of art as painting. And to make out that they are – as this exhibition, and some photographers, do – is a profound mistake.

    But what about that twilight world between painting and photography, where people alter images that started as photographs, changing, adding and shaping them in a process that has more of the quality of building? Whether what results is art is a matter for a different discussion. It’s clearly not photography in any literal sense of the word. Do the results bear comparison with what painters do? To ask that question is to subject them to the same critical values that we apply to Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Monet, Turner and the rest. We have to decide for ourselves how they fare in such company. They clearly just make Sewell throw up!


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