The camera freed the artist from the responsibility of representing the world realistically in art. If someone wanted an accurate portrait or landscape, he would hire a photographer, rather than a painter. Consequently, since the 1860s, painters have tried to represent things that the camera cannot easily capture, such as an impression, an experience, a feeling, movement, light, even the passage of time.
Ironically, some photographers, like me, an Instagramaddict, trespass upon the painterly realm in an attempt to capture these elements that seem exclusive to painting. In this post, I will pay homage to some of the modern, figurative artists from the romanticists onward who have influenced my photos, and in a separate post I will honor the abstract artists who have influenced my photography.
Modern art arose in part as a reaction against romanticism (end of the 18th century to approximately 1850), an artistic movement whose dark passions are represented here by Caspar David Friedrich‘s Abbey in the Oakwood (1909-1910). I had his sublime painting in mind when I took my photo of the Werner Chapel Overshadowing the Rhine (2013) in Bacharach, Germany.
One romanticist, J. M. W. Turner, rose from the lower classes to the Royal Academy, because of his epic, mythological paintings and wild, evocative seascapes, but as he grew older his paintings became moodier and his images more indistinct. John Beaumont, fellow in the Royal Academy, scornfully called them “blots.” He did not understand that Turner was turning from away from figurative art to sublime impressions of nature, emotion, and light. Not surprisingly, Turner’s paintings, like Sunrise with Sea Monsters (1845), influenced impressionists. He also influenced me. You may not see the sea monsters, but you can feel a similar mood in the sinister clouds and shining seascape in my photo Turner Sunrise in a Frying Pan (2017)
The first modernist art movement, Impressionism (1860s – 1890s), attempted to capture an artist’s impression of a scene, its mood, and its changing light. The art critic Louis Leroy gave the movement its name in a satirical critique, after a painting by Claude Monet called Impression, Sunrise (1872). I sometimes achieve similar effects to the Impressionists by taking pictures through warped or wet glass, as in my photo Ship Through Wet Ferry Window (2016). Lines are softened and colors are blurred, creating a moody impression of the scene, rather than a sharp and realistic representation.
Post-Impressionism (1886-1905), championed by such artists as Paul Cézanne and Vincent Van Gogh, took the innovations of the Impressionists further, exaggerating color and line. Cézanne broke up images into patches of color, into shapes, as in this self portrait (1895). Ron and Omar Reflected in the Shower Door (2017) owes a great deal to Cézanne in its patches of color, light, and shadow.
Cubists (1907-1914) went further yet, building upon the innovations of their predecessors, especially Cézanne. Splotches of color became shards of images. A major innovation was the simultaneous presentation of multiple perspectives, as in the painting by Pablo Picasso Portrait of Ambrose Vollard (1910), a famous art dealer. I fragmented my self-portrait and included multiple perspectives by taking a Selfie in a Mirror Mosaic (2013).
Futurism (1910-193), which orginated in Italy with artists like Umberto Boccioni and Carlo Carrà, captured movement in painting. Michel Duchamp was generally associated with Dadaism and conceptual art; his famous painting Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2 (1912) was not exactly a Futurist painting, but the the painting was influenced by Futurism. He not only captured his subject from different perspectives, he also showed the figure moving through space and time. My photo Happy Bastille Day! (2016) is a hand-held French flag, apparently being waved back and forth. A prismatic lens from a toy store fragments and blends images of the flag, simultaneously showing it in different places, as Duchamp’s picture overlays separate figures of the woman as she moves down the stairs.
Paul Klee (1879-1940) continued the modernist trend toward abstraction. Klee is harder to categorize, but was influenced by the Expressionists, Cubists, Surrealists, and Orientalists. In his painting Bust of a Child (1922), we can see the child-like simplification of the human form. Compare his painting to my photo Pilgrim Woman (20130). As I was walking one day, I recognized a naive portrait of a pilgrim, which was akin to Klee’s paintings. In other words, Klee taught me how to recognize and appreciate this simple portrait.
Jasper Johns, Jr. is often called a Neo-Dadaist rather than a pop-artists. Although he incorporated figures from pop culture, including flags, numbers, letters, and targets, his canvases were more painterly than those of the pop artist, who prefer more flat colors. Compare his Figure 8 (1959) with my Number 6 with Barnacles (2014), which was a number on the side of buoy at the San Pablo Yacht Club. Johns taught me to appreciate the shape of numbers and the joyous play of colors.
Modern artists have taught me to see the world more richly, and I have tried to translate some of their visions into photography.