Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Emotion and personality

While I was in London recently I took time to go visit the Picasso exhibition at the National Gallery. Quite an event - large selection of work, well presented. I learnt a bunch about his work & influences. It's a tricky thing, doing something like this where the connections are really 2 dimensional (both in chronology and themes).

[A side note on the exhibition - while it is excellent in content, I think it is grossly over-priced, there were way too many visitors even early in the morning and the constant chatter of those damned audio guides is a real distraction.]

While viewing the work I was reminded of some things that crossed my mind years ago while visiting the Munch Museum in Oslo, and that is how the material reflects the artist. It also highlighted a key difference, in my mind, between painting and photography.

Apart from the content itself (Picasso jumping between the analytical approach of cubism to an overt obsession with sexual fantasy) is the enduring reference the the artist's emotional state. Munch's work (beyond merely The Scream) demonstrates the same emotional input - quite apparent in a couple of works made from photographs. The physical effort of painter applying paints provides a very real connection between the artist's mood and his work.

Photography cannot be like that. It is the capturing of just what is in front of the lens. The photographer has no direct contact with the subject. He does, however, impart something in the framing, subject selection and selection of the frame for presentation (the process of eliminating that unwanted). It's rather more subtractive than painting. In that way, over a series of images, a photographer reveals his wider personality rather than immediate emotional state.

Of course, these are fairly broad generalisations but it feels like a real and mportant distinction between the two media.


  1. Just a small note on the 'substractiveness' of photography: That's just one way of seeing and doing it. You can also *include* elements that add to the image - to show scale, to add depth and so on. And think also of this concept of "dense photography" - like it or not, it's about including.

  2. Marcus, yes it could be looked at it that way but not, I think, in the context of the comparison I'm drawing.

    Paiters start with a blank canvas and choose what to include as they go. For photographers, the whole world is in front of them and it is a matter of excluding, by framing and DoF, to create the image.

    Of course, I could draw specific exampls to refute that, but the general principle holds.


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