1/ Photography jeopardizing painting
From its very start, photography was immediately perceived as a threat for painting. To photo-graph is to draw with light. When photography came, painters felt they were losing monopoly over representation. They also understood that this newcomer would draw better than they could. War started right away. Even though most painters immediately made use of photography, they also heavily criticized photographers: were these not failed painters? And was photography not vulgar in its rendering, unable as it was to screen what was shown? Unable to go straight to the point? And therefore was photography not non-artistic?
Of painting forced to leave figuration to photography.
With the arrival of colour in photography, figuration could no longer remain the enjoyment of painters alone. The cultural authorities, ruled by the painters, chose a double parry: Photographers were to be forbidden access to the artistic institution, whereas painting had to evolve toward abstraction in order to remain The grand Major Art. Relegated in a recess, photographers took hold of the Real and of documentary representation as one grabs at a banner. In a way, they made themselves more primitive, more hard-line, more vulgar and straightforward than they originally were, more anti-bourgeois than they ought to have been, because they had no other alternative. Yet, their figuration was not more vulgar than the painters’; painters were only middle-class people who did not want to see reality as it was.
And the public decided, cruelly enough.
The strategy of painters and photographers struggling for artistic recognition could thus last for a fair part of the 20th century in this unpleasant way. But the immense majority of the public kept liking figuration as much and could follow painting very little in its claim for primacy of matter and line, while they were also buying cameras and cell phones that could take snapshots. Today, worldwide, millions of photographs are taken on a daily basis; they show as much the public’s continuous passion for figuration as the photographer’s absurd claim to place documentary as a key to artistic recognition.
What to retain from this chaotic story?
First of all, the figurative know-how of European grand tradition of painting was lost when painting had to yield the realm of representation to photography. Artistic photographers were compelled to come back to figuration in its coldest, barest, and most documentary sense possible, since they had no other choice than to be the heroes of the Real. On purpose, they also discarded the accomplished art of the figurative painters, by making it redundant, and poured down the drain a know-how constituted by centuries of tradition.
The photographs here presented attempt to take up and use the good old forsaken recipes of painting: a biased selection of subjects and shapes, a scrupulous layout, the tradition of cloth folding, and a play on sharpness and colours.
2/ Origin of the work.
For years, we produced few photographs, exhibited little, and made a lot of experiments. We never believed in the idea that art was something incomprehensible. We thought that art had strong rules aiming at delectation, that the key to these rules lay in everyone, in human psychology, and that anyone could unravel its mystery if they were curious, attentive and honest in their approach. We thought that this secret could be phrased into words. There followed a long and confident road in the know thyself, punctuated with publications on http://www.galerie-photo.com each time we felt we had reached a new step in artistic analysis.
Eventually, one day we thought we could produce works connected to all we had discovered about the underground rules of art. In these works the relevance of the efforts of so many years will hence be assessed. Do they arouse any delectation at all?
Please refer to our papers (1) to make out how these pictures are indeed a patiently cultivated fruit. These works were in fact built:
- On a hinge of medium, at the frontier between painting and photography.
- On a time hinge, since it is a contemporary work on a past period.
- On a double subject hinge related to the very nature of still life: the hinge of man’s presence/absence, and the hinge of general layout/disorder of the elements that build it up.
- On a hinge in the making process: these luminous worlds were made up in a black room that is paradoxically shut off from the world.
- On a hinge of authorship: these pictures seem to testify to a paradoxical absence of author in a world where one was never so literally obsessed to show oneself off to one’s best advantage.
Our main purpose is to bring photography to a merging point with painting, which is the strongest hinge among those this work is founded on. But which painting?
We chose the 17th and 18th century Dutch still life painting for a certain number of reasons:
- The period was one of realism: painters were then learning how to watch and to truly enjoy every-day ordinary objects. This fact brings painting close to the photographic rendering.
- The period suits us well philosophically too: the sharpness of lines and the appropriateness of colours only occur because the painter was a humble servant who contemplated- the Real.
- We are interested in the subject as well: still life painting deals above all with the fragility of the passage of man on earth; it is a representation with a high philosophical content.
The field was little pioneered. Three references were more interesting than the others, though they remained limited:
- Some photographs by the Italian Guido Mocafico, that made him famous, take up the Dutch still life tradition. The main quality of these still lives lies in the excellent choice of the costly artefacts pictured. But the shooting is done very rapidly, the backgrounds are blotched and the lights, as though in advertising, tear off the subject incisively.
- Some very original photographs by the Australian Kevin Best show an acute interest for the Dutch still life. Kevin is a hard-liner who, too, purchased gorgeous – often period – artefacts and stages them meticulously in a way that shows a passion for clearness and mannerism. These experiments, as they went on, gradually turned to less convincing surreal inventions: The confusion with painting is not intended here, but a humorous, fairly cinematographic and childlike activity, based on references and diversions, that may make one readily laugh and whose virtuosity baffles, even if culture is too often the missing element.
- At last let us mention the interesting and at first glance delicate work of Dutch photographer Henrick Kerstens, notably on his daughter Paula. These photographs in the manner of Renaissance portraits often reach their goal in their proximity with painting, and they underline in a fortunate way the Vermeer-like beauty of the photographer’s daughter. Nonetheless, the repetitiveness of a process consisting in having his model wear successively different plastic bags soon gets pretty boring. An interesting track was found, but no good command is achieved.
These three examples show that, conversely, there is room left for another kind of work; for a work whose aim is to reach the point of confusion with painting; for a work that would go further than the choice of artefacts, further than the clever building up of the composition, further than the appropriate matching of colours; for a work that also integrates all the culture of an epoch that has so much to teach us: an epoch of silence, of contemplation, of accurate observation, of patient learning, of sensual and yet obstinate work, of apt reserve and humility.