I enjoy painting in the genre of photo realism. From time to time, I have had people ask me why I make oil paintings or watercolors from photographs: why not just go to Wally World and get the picture blown up? Fair question. The camera records the particular event or image that it is exposed to in a 60th or 120th of a second. There is a lot of information in that very short amount of time that the shutter records as it is open for a brief instant. There is also a lot of authority in that image because the camera produces a mechanical representation of what light hits either its film or the digital sensors in it's circuitry. We are deluged with this kind of authority all the time. It's on TV and in magazines and about anywhere one chooses to look. Who can argue with a photograph?
The human eye, on the other hand, also records the same information and is always sending that information to the brain. The information is constantly changing. Another factor is that most of us see with two eyes or in a binocular fashion so we are able to perceive that things are not just images on a flat surface but actually exist in a three dimensional reality. Our eyes move all the time. We perceive an inanimate, motionless object as staying in one place, but it is actually jumping around in our field of vision constantly. This creates a very different kind of perception from the mechanical interpretation of a photograph, although we don't think about the difference too much unless there is some reason to do so. Painting from a photograph is a very good way to take a look at those differences. It is also a way to add things about how we interpret reality that the photograph is not able to record. One good example is the color around very bright areas in a particular area of vision that changes to the negative of that color when our eyes move ever so slightly. If I am looking at a really bright spot on a reflective surface and my vision moves a little bit, it seems there is a glowing red line around something that just a moment ago was maybe a very charged-up area of light green. That doesn't happen in a photograph, and it fades almost immediately in our perception of that event. If I paint that glowing red line around that light green area in my painting, I have conveyed an experience that happens in human perception that cannot be interpreted by a mechanical reproduction.
Some of my favorite places in the world happen to be junkyards. They are a repository of an aesthetic that embodies itself in one of the most highly accepted and mass-produced forms of sculpture in the history of the human race - automobiles. I happen to like the older ones. Give me an old De Soto or a Ford Fairlane, or maybe a Plymouth or a Dodge from the late '50s or early '60s. Is there anyone who knows anything about cars that doesn't conjure up an instant image when somebody mentions a '57 Chevy Hardtop?' How about that two tone styling and all that chrome? You gotta love it.
When I go on a photo shoot to gather material for a prospective painting in one of these automobile grave yards, it is kind of like hunting. Never know what might be lurking around that next tree or be in the next row or over there behind that shed. Just recently I found an old 1942 Chevrolet pickup that had weeds growing up out of the engine bay where the motor used to be. It was a bright, beautiful, late summer morning, and I got one killer photo of that old gentleman which I just recently turned into an interesting and very detailed oil painting (shown below). While I was painting, I kept noticing different things about the photo that I hadn't seen before in the photo itself, but that I was pulling from my experience actually viewing the truck. The chrome in the grill had all kinds of reflections in pastel pinks, light soft blues and weird yellows. Purple seemed to crop up all over the place in areas I would have thought would just be some stupid shade of gray. I kept remembering how I felt as I was standing in front of that old truck and how I envisioned all kinds of scenarios about things that might have taken place in the cab, or where the driver or drivers might have taken it. Did somebody pick up their girlfriend and take them to dinner? Did they eventually get married and have a slew of kids? Maybe that man's son rode with him to market one year and saw some beautiful young woman who he fell in love with and used his dad's old pickup to take her out on their first date. Now that old truck is just slowly sinking back into the Earth and seems to have so much to tell and talk about--if only someone cares enough to pay attention.