Learn Photography from Paintings

April 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

It strikes me as completely bizarre that people separate the mediums of art as completely different. I see them, and in my own experience I’ve learned a lot by doing each of them, but they cross over for me. I’ve learned painting by sketching, I’ve learned sketching by photography and I’ve learned 3D art by painting etc. They all contribute to a greater knowledge of what we call “art”.

Similar to my rant previous (see this post) I make some definitions of art for myself. This is an odd thing, since it’s different for everyone, but I think my assumptions can be applied to almost all types of art. The main thing, for me, is being dynamic.

So, if we start crossing media, we can still learn key values of the art in the media and apply those to other types. Right now, let’s look at some famous paintings:

A classic that we all know. It’s a painting depicting dogs playing poker. Now, without going into too much art history – in fact, without any, from a completely new perspective – we can look at the image and see a few things:

The dogs are moving. Not literally, but in our mind we can see them shuffling cards, playing nervously with chips and slyly looking about the room. Perhaps one dog has a debt and can’t pay it off, perhaps another shouldn’t be out this late gambling. It’s the story.

We can hear the din of the room. The clock ticking, the dogs panting and scratching. It’s implied. Of course, the painting doesn’t move or make sounds, but good visual art also appeals to the other senses.

Taking this to photography is slightly different in approach. Unless you stage it, you won’t naturally find dogs playing poker. As a photographer, it’s your job to find these situations (that imply motion, sound and feeling) and capture it in time, on film.

I love New York (any city, really) street photography for it’s very real portrayal of humans. The image above, in my opinion, is brilliant. It’s a man sitting in a diner reading the paper and drinking some coffee. That’s it.

But there is so much more. Who is this man? Where does he come from? Is he rich? Does he come to this diner every single day and order the same thing? Perhaps he’s been recently fired from his job and he’s come here to look for another in the newspaper. You can hear the diner, the street outside, the bell as the door opens, the din of the restaurant further in, the greasy fryer making eggs and bacon in the morning.

In a way, these two “completely unrelated” media are actually quite similar: they both tell the story well.

You can learn photography from paintings.


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