The Impact of Photograph*

For me the impact of photography on drawing (1) is tremendous. I can see it, or feel it, in the works of visual artists of post-photographic times. But what are the points which I consider the impact or influence of photography:

The drawing of sky?

The way artists draw the shadows?

The blur of the distance?

The vignette effect, where center is brighter than sides or corners?

Yes all these happenings I can see in the artists work. There may be many other influences but at present I can remember these above points.

The whole visual arts manufacturing is addicted to this influence. Almost everywhere we go we will find photographs in the possession of artists, kept as references to draw from. After the invention of camera and photography people commissioned artists to draw their portraits by handing the artist a photograph to draw from. Why did not these individuals settled for a camera shot portrait? Well in the beginning photography was black and white and small, so people wanted colored and bigger images of themselves. But why now? Now we have color and clean photography and printers which can print images size of a football ground. Still we hand over photographs of ours, of others or of other objects to artists to draw from to paint from. Why this? Is this is our human nature to follow traditions, the tradition of painting from a photograph? Why the vast majority, those who want to be painted, settle on painting or drawings which were seen and drawn from photographs? Well still there are people who want themselves to be drawn live. And, well here I am not against drawing from photographs, here I am asking why, questioning myself about humans taste. By commissioning copies and identical works from photographs we feel a depth, depth that it is hand drawn with labor and we paid for it. Here comes a contradiction to me, that after the invention of photography we still have the process of painting, and by the arrival of colored photography painting should have died down but ney! Not to be confused with wall, infrastructure or building’s body painting, here I mean the art of painting of images, from realism to abstract. So how do I conclude this confusion of mine? Let me try to finish it with men’s mustaches. Why a large number of men around the world want hair between their nose and mouth and shave their cheeks? Because, by keeping mustaches one needs lot of time and capital. They shave their cheeks daily or weekly and trim their mustaches. Here comes the question of tradition and taste or sense of beauty. Tradition in the sense that thousands of years of experience i.e. the men before me had mustaches so I/we should. And sense of beauty means that they perceive they look beautiful.

Humans draw still lives, bottles, jugs and fruits etc. For us a still life painting is a beautiful thing, we watch still life paintings and become delighted by it. Humans take photographs of arranged objects, of landscapes, of individuals, of people and so on, and there are lots of cameras , lots of photographs and this influence humans and they have to do something with it to manage this impact and influence. I am still not clear, now I leave this here and go further.

The good example of photographic influence for me are the works of Robert Longo, huge charcoal drawings. If someone, without previous information, comes face to face with the works of Robert he/she will find it, for a moment, little difficult that these works are black and white photographs or handmade drawings. Also in this regard we must see the monoprints of Wendy Orville, they are too a good example of consciously playing and working with the photographic influence. (2)

Now let’s go to the artists of pre-photographic times, I can find “photographic” influence in their drawings also. Take the example of Piero della Francesca’s painting, in it the background is “photographic” with blurness in distance and its sky. Also Jan Van Eyeks’s center mirror. But wait! Piero’s and Jan’s works are realistic, and that is why same to same drawing or same copy of drawn object/s is called photo-realism. So realistic drawings is considered photo-realistics, say like a photography, but my point is photograph’s influence. Deliberately depicting photographic elements in works that are not in realm of realism(3) and also un-deliberately (meaning a element came in art work or drawing that depicts a thing from our surroundings and that is not an abstract). But at the same time realist works are also depicted deliberately as photographs. Finished


*This article has been written before previous knowledge of Camera Obscura process (This footnote added on 8 August 2016).

(1)Here drawing means drawn imagery on a surface by the mediums of paint, lead, charcoal, watercolor, ink, and techniques of printmaking-art, prints by printer machines of images drawn in computer and so on.

(2)Here I have just given examples of Robert Longo and Wendy Orville, at present their works had inspired me a lot. Of course there are many other artists whose works are similar to Robert and Wendy.

(3)Wendy Orville’s Nisqually Marsh, monotype, 18”x24”

Further reading:

*Impressionists most vigorously embraced photography as an aid to painting; Degas in particular is known to have modeled several of his racehorse sketches after Muybridge plates. (Source)

*7 Things We Learned About the World Thanks to Photography


Shahnawaz Baloch

May 2015




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