Recently I was reading a post by the very talented Elena Caravela (http://elenacaravela.wordpress.com/) and she mentioned what a pain it had been to photograph an oil painting she had been working on, if at this point you are hoping for a step-by-step guide on “how to photograph oil paintings”, well I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint, sorry. That’s an area of expertise that I haven’t mastered either. Anyway it got me thinking about why this is.
You see oil paintings seem to possess a magical ability to only truly come alive when they’re actually seen in the flesh (paint). I can’t explain why, it’s not that the 3D qualities of the paint can only be seen with the naked eye – although the secret to the mystery probably is found in the eye – it’s something else, something wonderful that happens when you’re in it’s presence.
I expect what it is, is that the human eye is such a miraculous piece of design engineering, that in conjunction with the brain, it is able to scan every angle, absorb every subtle difference in hue, chroma and saturation, zoom in and out rapidly and at will from multiple angles, it can blur areas while focusing on others and almost literally visually feel the painting. Cameras by contrast are a very, very poor substitute*.
And yet with science aside, there is something else about actually standing in front of a picture that is incredibly rewarding to the viewer. As an artist I find this both wonderful and a complete pain! It’s wonderful for the viewer, a complete pain for the artist trying to promote his or her work via the internet or in print.
Personally, I often photograph my work on my phone as I’m working on it, but this is a very dangerous thing to do. Dangerous because if I don’t keep reminding myself that the work is better in the flesh, seeing the work as a photo’ can make me feel that it is complete rubbish and trigger thoughts along the lines of, “really, I don’t know why I bother”!
But – yes I know I’ve just started a paragraph with both an “and” and a “but”, but I don’t care, my thinking like my grammar is poorly punctuated – when you stand in front of a painting it takes on a life of it’s own. It’s as if it notices it’s being looked at and suddenly does its best to put on a show for the viewer. A painting is an experience, not an image to be collected on a computer etc. You can’t tell anything about the scale of a painting on a screen, or the texture, or smell, or presence as it absorbs and reflects light, that’s why owning a picture is so much better than just seeing it in a book.
That said, I can’t own some of my favourites, not unless I put on a stripy jersey and a mask and manage to work out how to foil the security of the world’s finest galleries. So I – like most of us – have to be content to admire them in a book.
So, after a few hundred words extolling the virtues of seeing pictures in the flesh and explaining how much better they are in the flesh, here’s Michelle (Mrs. Me). She’d just bought a shiny new bag and was very excited in a very girlie way about the shiny pinkness of the bag in question. I’ll try my best to look at it on the canvas and not on the screen…
Oil on linen.
*Interestingly, did you know that visible light represents approximately only about 1 inch on an electromagnetic scale that would stretch over 2,000 miles! When you look at it that way, it makes you wonder about just how much we can’t see! Imagine if your eyes could see all the other electromagnetic waves and how they interact with our surroundings. Wow!