The Usefulness (or Otherwise) of Photographs

I have always been a keen photographer, especially, macrophotography. It is another way of seeing. I also own a telescope and a microscope, all of which aid me in my enquiry into the world or worlds. During Drawing 1, my tutor forbade the use of photographic references, and I came to appreciate how right she was and the importance of looking in person, in the moment. We are used to thinking that a photograph is a truthful, objective image but, or course, that isn’t so; it is merely one of possible truths. However high resolution an image, the eye sees more and differently. However, I have returned to the use of photography in this course, because it offers a useful, additional tool.

I used photographs on my first project to look at different view points, and found that it offered me the added value of seeing colour combinations more easily than if I had just observed by eye when I concentrate on form. Using a photo editor also allowed me to overlay images or parts of images and play with combining shapes in a way that I could not do physically.

overlay (1 of 1)

In my parallel project I have been using my camera to help me edit and abstract. I have used the lens to help me see and isolate patterns and shapes, often taking photographs deliberately out of focus. This provides an instant loss of detail and first level of abstraction.



Looking at thumbnails and contact sheets allows me to see instantly if a composition works; if it works on a tiny scale, it probably works. I use a free program called xnview as a lightbox to look at thumbnails, select a number of pics and print them as a contact sheet.Using a crop tool, I can experiment in cropping the image in multiple ways and try out different formats, landscape, square etc. I find that working from life, I find it difficult to stop adding stuff at the sides.

A cheap photo editor program allows me to take a pic of a work and experiment with where I might go next in its development. I can print it out and draw or paint over the top, or I can use a paint tool to experiment, as below.

dad (1 of 1) dad white dad white _ red

I have also used the perspective tool to take an acquired image and alter its perspective to suit my purpose.

Whilst I would now always choose to work from life rather than a photo reference, it is really useful to be able to capture a fleeting effect of light, and if that effect is the essence of what I am trying to capture in my work, then I will happily work from a photo.

light effects (5 of 5) light effects (4 of 5) light effects (2 of 5)

Photography also allows me to consider views which I could not practically draw from life, here lying on my back under the birches.

light effects (3 of 5)

It was very useful to turn my back on photography for Drawing 1 but I now find it empowering to see it as a useful tool for analysis alongside and informing my sketchbook work.


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