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Would a camera have recorded this scene differently? If so, what is the difference?

David Hockney has been exploring the relationship between painting and photography…

I’ve finally figured out what’s wrong with photography. It’s a one-eyed man looking through a little ‘ole. Now, how much reality can there be in that? – David Hockney

There is nothing wrong with photography, if you don’t mind the perspective of a paralysed Cyclops. – David Hockney

One of the things I’m doing in Yorkshire is finding out how difficult it is to learn not to see like cameras, which has had such an effect on us. The camera sees everything at once. We don’t. There’s a hierarchy. Why do I pick out that thing as opposed to that thing or that thing? – David Hockney

Without images how would I know what you see? I don’t know what you see. I’ll never know, but these flat images are the only things that connect up between us. – David Hockney

I made a photograph of a garden in Kyoto, the Zen garden, which is a rectangle. But a photograph taken from any one point will not show, well it shows a rectangle, but not with ninety degree angles.

Zen Garden

But slowly I began to use cameras and then think about what it was that was going on. It took me a long time, I mean I actually played with cameras and photography for about 20 years.

David Hockney

But the moment you use an ordinary camera, you are not seeing the picture, remember, meaning, you had to remember what you’ve taken. Now you could see it of course, with a digital thing, but remember in 1982 you couldn’t.

David Hockney

Pre-historic museum

Perhaps ‘seeing’ is important for all artists whether using painting or photography as a medium of recording and expressing…

When is the present? When did the past end and the present occur, and when does the future start? Ordinary photography has one way of seeing only, which is fixed, as if there is kind of an objective reality, which simply cannot be. Picasso…knew that every time you look there’s something different. There is so much there but we´re not seeing it, that’s the problem. – David Hockney

Television is becoming a collage – there are so many channels that you move through them making a collage yourself. In that sense, everyone sees something a bit different.

David Hockney

Now that is something worth thinking about – everyone sees something different….

You had to be aware that I saw that photography was a mere episode in the history of the optical projection and when the chemicals ended, meaning the picture was fixed by chemicals, we were in a new era.

David Hockney


It adds fuel to his belief that painting can do things photography can’t, even when it comes to telling the truth about war. Everyone used to assume photographs of war were “true” in a way photography can’t be. But Hockney argues that the digital age has made such a conception of photography obsolete. You can change any image now in any way you want. He once saw what a famous LA photographer’s portrait of Elton John looked like before it was retouched. The difference, he says, was “hilarious”. And now everyone can do this.

“My sister, who is just a bit older than me, she’s a retired district nurse, she’s just gone mad with the digital camera and computer – move anything about; she doesn’t worry about whether it’s authentic or stuff like that – she’s just making pictures.”

Although Hockney may disparage the simplicity of taking photos he should admit that since Niepce in early 182o’s brought photography into reality that photography has influenced painting  and equally painting influenced the range of possibilities within photographic art.

Niepce 1826 -view from his window (8 hour exposure)

jfkturner in his blog ‘The Delights of Seeing‘ (Photorealism and the Relationship Between Photography and Painting) explores the close but turbulent rapport  between photography and painting.

He writes:

The invention of a device that could allow anybody to record the world in perfect detail would revolutionize how we see ourselves, how we communicate and how we make art. Without Photography Modern art, film and the Internet would not exist – or at least not as we know them.

In my opinion the announcement of a device that could capture the world in perfect detail forced painters to question the nature of painting, ask what an image was and what the nature of art is. As a result paintings changed – creating images that could not be created by a camera. Eventually artists questioned the act of painting and many moved towards other ways of working – for example performance and conceptual art.

and then a last quote from Hockney himself:

He argued that for the past 500 years, artists in the West have used optics and lenses in their work, thereby presenting the world in photographic terms. The invention of photography as we know it, says Hockney, was only the invention of chemicals; the optical lens has been around for hundreds of years. The “invention of photography,” he tells me, “was the invention of the fixative to fix an image.”

Hockney seems to have an antipathy to this “chemical” photography, which he claims has assumed visual control, which equals power. “If you think of it, until the 19th century, one of the main purveyors of images was the church,” he says. “They decided that Christianity needed images, so they provided images, and in doing so the church had social control for a long time. But in the 19th century, they began to lose that control.”

With the invention of photography, the power for social control simply moved with the image makers to what we call the media. Social control in the 20th century came through the media. That’s now disintegrating, and in a way the power of the media is therefore being diminished, and it’s spreading to anyone who wants it.”

We’ve gotten to the point where we think the camera can capture anything at all,” “Well, it can’t really. The camera can’t compete with painting at all. The paintings are much more vivid about the place than photographs are.”

What do you think? Has photography influenced painting?

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