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Every second the world is changed by the constant innovation in science and technology. These advances have brought forth improvement to our human lives, revolutionising not only our basic necessities of clothing, food, accommodation and transportation, but also our minds, in terms of the process of education and perception according to personal taste. Because of photography, artists and designers changed their waypoint and concept in producing artworks. In my honest opinion, I agree that the usage of cameras has a huge impact on the changing concept of capturing visual images. In my essay, I will attempt to explain how new technologies and techniques influence modern creative practice. As a start, I will put photography and painting in comparison and contrast, then moving on to discuss how photography becomes an alternative of painting, a new form of art.
Photography took one of its baby steps in ancient times when a person named Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen, 965CE - 1039CE) (see Fig 1) invented the very first pinhole camera, the camera obscura (see Fig 2), which literally means 'darkened room' in Latin. Back then, it was only a viewfinder for artists. It was not until 1820s when Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (1765CE - 1833CE) (see Fig 3) took the first photograph with the camera obscura.
Fig 1: Ibn al-Haytham, inventor of the first pinhole camera.
Fig 2: The camera obscura.
Fig 3: Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, first photographer in human history.
From then on, the camera obscura was used as a studio camera. In the 19th century, technology in photography began to improve rapidly. Various types of camera (see Fig 4) were invented during this period of time - the box camera, the compact camera, the TLR (twin lens reflex), the SLR (single lens reflex), the digital compact camera and the apex of photographic equipment, the DSLR (digital single lens reflex).
Fig 4: Line-up of various camera types.
(from left: box camera, compact camera, TLR, SLR, digital compact camera, DSLR)
Photography has changed in such dramatic ways that, in the very beginning, only the wealthy can afford a box camera and take photographs with it, the developing process being expensive and time-consuming, until today in the digital age, photography is readily accessible by people from all walks of life, and processing photographs no longer takes up fortune and time.
The invention of photography has narrowed the scope of interpretation, giving the viewer a more direct and informative experience, as opposed to painting, which leaves the viewer a broad horizon open to any form of interpretation. Photography is an essential element in the history of man, in that it captures moments in history as perceived by humans. Photography is also important in modern design - it is a media used by designers to grace their displays, not limited to posters, packaging, leaflets, banners and buntings. Even artists use photographs as means to invoke inspiration, creativity and ideas. Photography also revolutionised printing, as we grow more dependent of visual stimuli for information, giving way to a faster printing process known as lithography. Compared to woodblock printing in the past, lithographic printing is undeniably faster and thus able to efficiently convey messages in mass media.
Science and technology undergoes change and improvement because of our ever-increasing demands. In the case of the invention of photography, it is due to painting techniques unable to meet the artists' demand for realism. In the times after the invention of photography, we still see that there is a visible difference between photographs and paintings. Putting these two art forms in contrast, time and the end-result become the main comparison. Photography has changed the concept of artists, motivating them to constantly change and adapt for the better. One fine example would be Oscar Claude Monet (1840CE - 1926CE) (see Fig 5), an Impressionist, who created a series of paintings titled 'Haystacks' (see Fig 6). Those paintings were the results of an intricate study into natural lighting and how it affects the way colours of objects present themselves to the viewer.
Fig 5: Oscar Claude Monet, Impressionist
Oscar Claude Monet, Haystacks(Sunset), oil on canvas,1891(Impressionism)
Fig 6: Haystacks
Conversely, Vincent Van Gogh (1853CE - 1890CE), a Dutch post-Impressionist, injects strong emotions into his paintings' colours and brush strokes (see Fig7 and Fig8). Often his paintings have instigated a multitude of feelings in viewers, bringing about his own emotions as of the time of painting. Van Gogh has always been avid about expressing himself, and not about creating a painting that resembles the real world.
Fig 7: Starry Night, post-Impressionist
Fig 8: self-portrait painting
The latter is one of the distinctive traits of Photorealism, an art movement that began in the late 1960s. In order to achieve life-like paintings that exhibit astounding realism, Photorealists employed photography, projectors, airbrushes and pens. The creation of photorealistic paintings consists of many painstaking procedures - the Photorealist first takes a photograph of his desired frame or scene with a camera, then develops the photograph and projects it on the canvas, ready for the transfer of painting media to simulate the photograph as close as possible. The end result usually leaves the viewer confused as to whether the painting is a photograph, or just a painting. Before the invention of photography and many more advanced technology, artists struggled with the technical and time constraints, rendering them unable to fully delve into the finer details during painting. Fast forward to the modern times, with photography and sophisticated technology, and one will see artists using photography to accurately capture their painting scenes, then creating a painting based on the photograph with time being the least of their worries. Chuck Close (see Fig 9) is just the exemplary artist for Photorealism, stating that he wanted to translate from one flat surface to another, referring to his painting method of transferring visuals from a photograph to a painting canvas.
Fig 9: Chuck Close, Photorealist
Chuck Close, Self-portrait, 2007, screen-print,H:74.5xW:57.8in
Fig 9: self-portrait painting
The fact that humans are creating cold, emotionless and machine-like paintings have led to my understanding how the advance of technology has shaped our lives, including the way we think from different perspectives. The concept behind Photorealism is, in effect, very similar to that of Pop Art's. Both Photorealists and Pop Artists present zero emotions to their subjects, drawing inspiration from life as it is. On another aspect, they also employ photography as one of their methods of capturing visuals. Additionally, Photorealists and Pop Artists brought improvisations in printing techniques, when it plays a common yet essential role in our daily lives, because the message that printing conveys greatly affects the society we live in, and together with the complement of photography, text print transforms into a more vivid, and a more definitive source of information. As a result, it encouraged visual reasoning of the viewers.
"â€¦the technique of collage is a revolution of Cubism and it is also an evolution of Modernism. The two major persons who develop and carried forward this technique are Pablo Picasso and Braque in the 20t century. The technique of collage mainly consists of a few group of combination artwork such as photography, paper or fabric and etc. being a base of the artwork, after that using painting or drawing to paint on it becoming another artwork.
The word 'collage' is inadequate as a description because the concept should include 'damage', 'eraser', 'deface', 'transform', etc. all parts of creative act itself."
(Taylor, 2006, pg. 139)
As quoted above is one of the specialities of collage art - it has zero restriction when it comes to choice of building materials. For example, one can draw over a painting to occur new visual, cut-and-paste different images to form a new one, or mix-and-match usage of many painting media and substances, etc (see Fig 10).
Romare Bearden, The Calabash, collage, 1970, collage
Fig 10: collage
Compared with painting, collage presents a more tactile and textured surface on the art work. Material-wise, prints and photographs are very popular among collage artists, as they are popularised in modern culture. Examples include magazine and newspaper print. Collage is a very dynamic art in that it can be implemented on almost every type of display, be it a poster background, a set backdrop, product packaging, leaflet, and many more. Composing a collage is also flexible and limitless - one can place two or more unrelated subjects together on the same plane to bring forth an unexpected and entertaining result. To boost efficiency in creating collage art, artists utilise various modern technology such as photography, lithography and computer software in the creation process.
Andy Warhol (1928CE - 1987CE) (see Fig 11), a Pop Artist, created a tiled diptych consisting 50 portraits of Marilyn Monroe (see Fig 12), each one identical to the other in terms of the outlines. By doing so, he also expressed his wish to create art like a machine, monotonous and repetitive.
Fig 11: Andy Warhol, Pop Artist
Fig 12: Marilyn Diptych
Andy Warhol's artworks shed new light on my understanding on modern technology - it is not there to substitute humans, but it is there to meet and exceed our demands, to cater to our needs and assist us whenever possible. Technology serves as an accelerant to our efficiency only to a certain extent, as at times it still needs the human element to produce truly expressive artworks.
The advent of sophisticated technology on us has opened a new window of opportunity for creative practitioners. Thanks to modern technology, artists are now enjoying the luxuries of lighter workload, greater efficiency, faster workflow, wider range of creative media and a speedier process of spreading the word. No doubt technology has greatly impacted the human society, bringing about a revolution in creative practice. In its ever-growing horizon, the definition for 'art' is also inevitably expanding, constantly growing and changing to times. 'Art' today is no longer confined to visual stimulus - 'art' can now engage the audience by other means, such as tactile stimulus, olfactory stimulus, auditory stimulus and taste. In a nutshell, innovation and change in technology has diversified creative practice.