PetaPixel

“Photography Lacks the Depth and Heft [...] That Painting Possesses”

The National Gallery in London, the world’s 4th most visited art museum, is currently holding its first major exhibition of photography, titled, “Seduced by Art: Photography Past and Present.” Andrew Graham-Dixon of The Telegraph has published a review of the show, and has some strong opinions on photography’s place in the art world:

The truth is that very few photographers have ever produced images with the weight of thought and feeling found in the greatest paintings. The camera is certainly an artistic tool, and photos can certainly be works of art. But can they be works of art of the same order as paintings? Modern critical orthodoxy would say yes. But the real answer is no. Photography lacks the depth and heft, the thinking sense of touch, that painting possesses.

That is why the greatest images of the last 150 years– the images people argue about, contest, return to again and again – are not photographs but paintings

Brian Sewell over at The London Evening Standard has written up a lengthier, but equally critical, review.

Seduced by Art: Seven magazine review [The Telegraph via POTB]


Image credits: Photograph by Maisie Broadhead and painting by Thomas Gainsborough


 
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  • Adam

    Can only agree. Photography, especially now that it’s become so easily accessible and widespread, has become a bland sea of copying and recycling of the same ideas. Add to this the instant mass feedback of the internet and you have photographers thinking they’re “artists” based entirely on how many likes they’re getting. If you’re a modern photographer your work is most likely disposable drivel. Get over it.

  • jdm8

    I think there’s truth to that, but I suspect there’s an air of elitism going on as well.

  • PeterC

    What a load of crap. Painting is essentially entirely comprised of analogue retouching. Converse to this brain surgeons comments, there are very few painters that can achieve photo-real reproductions. Comparing these mediums is like comparing a seven foot hairy transvestite to Jennifer Hawkins (or my wife who is even hotter). This entire train of thought is bedded in elitist thinking and paintings have existed for the majority of our civilization, where photography as only for a relatively small time. Bottom line? No one should waste time reading this rubbish. This sort of vulturistic pap could only come from a media drone fishing for a reaction, but never from an artist.

  • harumph

    But you could make roughly the same statement about the bland sea of hobbyist painters who consider themselves artists. The medium isn’t to blame.

  • eraserhead12

    how silly. by allowing widespread accessibility to the medium itself, photography itself is lost forever?

    I took an art class once. every single person in the room thought they were an artist. let me tell you, not a single painting produced was anything but ‘disposable drivel’. What’s your point?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1591553601 Jim Callahan

    The quantity of
    pro-level photos/images are so much greater than the number of great paintings.

    And that bit of obvious truth in turn
    psychologically devalues fine art photographic
    images.

    Also tie to that a painting is a one off and cannot be exactly replicated.

    It is what allot of marketing is based upon.

    Scarcity of an object/thing contributes to a perceived value.

    Best Wishes,

    Jim

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=744079103 Dov Hechtman

    Um No sorry wrong there are few painters that achieve the claim being made, worse Photography has been around for a limited amount of time, the first known photographic image being around 1839 while painting has been around with many levels of sophistication and styles for 1000″s of years.

    To say that Few photographers have produced images with the thought and weight of artists who paint is to use a false equivalency ignoring the reality that painters and painting have been around longer than photography and artists taking photographers by an exponential degree.

    To make a dig at the presumption of setting aside painting as an elite entity that is separate from photography in all aspects is to ignore painters like Vermeer who used optical techniques particular to photography itself and particular to the art of understanding and expressing how light functions for our eye and brain to experience and perceive a painting as depicting that which it depicts.

    The impressionists were not just painters of oil on canvas but early experimenters in how the optics and mind perceive color and light. Photography with man/artist being the interpretive layer to expose the image onto the film of the canvas.

    As for people returning to famous paintings over and over again ignores the sorry lack of art education in the world tofday and very lacking in the US in that were you to show those famous paintings to the average adult or child today they would be hard pressed to identify the painting in question or why its even famous.

    We live in a very photographic image saturated world in which the images of Henri Cartier-Bresson or helmut newton are more likely to be know rather than Davinci or jasper johns
    Roger Ebert of the sun times makes a point of this cultural gap in relation to what are the must see famous movies of our time in an article not to recently where he was confronted in a class he teaches on famous films you should see in your life by students who had no awareness of the importance or existence of these films due to their lack of exposure or availability in the media channels of today

    The critic in their arguments presented do not do themselves a service as to the quality of their critique by drawing such an apples to oranges comparison

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=744079103 Dov Hechtman

    Um No sorry wrong there are few painters that achieve the claim being made, worse Photography has been around for a limited amount of time, the first known photographic image being around 1839 while painting has been around with many levels of sophistication and styles for 1000″s of years.

    To say that Few photographers have produced images with the thought and weight of artists who paint is to use a false equivalency ignoring the reality that painters and painting hase been around longer than photography and artists taking photographers by an exponential degree.

    To make a dig at the presumption of setting aside painting as an elite entity that is separate from photography in all aspects is to ignore painters like Vermeer who used optical techniques particular to photography itself and particular to the art of understanding and expressing light functions our eyes require in order to experience and perceive a painting as depicting that which it depicts.

    Te impressionists were not just painters of oil on canvas but early experimenters in how the optics and mind perceive color and light. Photography with man being the interpretive layer to expose the image onto the film of the canvas.

    As for people returning to famous paintings over and over again ignores the sorry lack of art education in the world tofday and very lacking in the US in that were you to show those famous paintings to the average adult or child today they would be hard pressed to identify the painting in question or why its even famous.

    We live in a very photographic image saturated world in which the images of Henri Cartier-Bresson or helmut newton are more likely to be know rather than Davinci or jasper johns

    Roger Ebert of the sun times makes a point of this cultural gap in relation to what are the must see famous movies of our time in an article not to recently where he was confronted in a class he teaches on famous films you should see in your life by students who had no awareness of the importance or existence of these films due to their lack of exposure or availability in the media channels of today

    The critic in their arguments presented do not do themselves a service as to the quality of their critique by drawing such an apples to oranges comparison

  • PatE

    Absolutely spot on, not only is painting about great lighting composition and expression it is about technique. You have to have technical mastery of paint and brush this is essential. Photography is easy by comparison, any one can process a film and make a print. Now with digital it is almost impossible to take a bad picture, then you just hit it with a filter or the terrible HDR that all looks the same. Then print off hundreds of identical copies. Sure there are a few great pics, the usual guys McCullin, Burrows, Jones Griffiths, Bailey, Adams, Penn, Cartier Bresson, Smith. But go to the Rubens room in the Louvre and stand back in awe.

  • Sergei Zhukov

    Lets compare apples to apples and pick the best achievements in both photography and painting. The point is in what came first an egg or a chicken. Most photographers today, like lots of amateur painters, put the medium up front whereas their foremost concern should be the idea of what they want to photograph or draw and then how.

  • ennuipoet

    I came here to say this, but you said it far better than I might have. Well done.

  • 11

    “the images people argue about, contest, return to again and again” that is probably because they never understood and they retake the exam. j/k.

    both mediums have their power. But, to say one is better (depth and heft crap) than the other is foolishness…. like they say, beauty lies in the eyes… different people enjoy art differently.. and to say paintings are better– pretty much sums to supremacy by lies. Honestly, I dont’ like painings (I probably dont understand) as much as photographs, it is more of a mental product of the painter than the reality itself…. and why would I value the painters perception more than the reality… elitism again. Both have their own strengths.

  • Goofball Jones

    Well, don’t want to be a downer here, but every art form on the planet… painting, photography, music, writing, film, ect ect…could all be said to have become a bland sea of copying and recycling of the same ideas. Seriously.

    So, what is your point? Should aspiring artists not even attempt to try anymore? It’s all been don’t before, so why be an artist. And I’m not talking about a hipster using a filter on an iPhone image and calling it art. But what about someone that really wants to BE an artist in one form or another? “Sorry sweetly, it’s all been done before…all you’ll produce is disposable drivel”.

    What a sad world you must live in. Yeah yeah, I know, you’re a “realist”.

  • Keith D

    The last time I checked, photography is all about great lighting, composition and expression. Photography, especially film photography, also requires a technical knowledge of how the light you see in the frame is going to react and appear on film. It also requires the technical mastery of the camera and settings to acheive a photo that you had in your mind. Knowing what and how f/stop works can make or break a photo. Have you ever tried macro photography with a manual focus lens? Takes no technique or technical mastery at all, right? With digital it it impossible to make a bad photo? Have you ever been on Facebook, Flickr, or any other photo sharing site? You are implying that if you have a mastery of paint and brush, you will always churn out Louvre quality paintings. Get off your high horse, tool.

  • http://twitter.com/stoyanov stanimir stoyanov

    I think the accessibility of digital cameras, and by extension tools like Photoshop and Instagram, ruin people’s perspective of photography. Large format photography and high-budget photographic projects, however, are a whole another ball game. Think Annie Leibovitz, Bettina Rheims, etc.

  • Trey Mortensen

    The argument made at the end that “That is why the greatest images of the last 150 years… are not photographs but paintings” is highly debatable. Especially since the rise of digital, the most provoking, emotional and powerful works of art comes out of a camera. Take the National Geographic girl. It’s been called the modern Mona Lisa. Or even more impressionistic styled works like “The Rhine II” have created their own artistic following. Even painters like Andy Warhol, based their paintings off of photos. It feels like the person who wrote the article was just trying to boost the image of the medium of painting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/burnin.biomass Burnin Biomass

    That noise you heard was Alfred Stieglitz and Beaumont Newhall trying to get out of their coffins to punch this guy in the face.

  • Neil

    Dude’s a master at trolling.

  • Goofball Jones

    Annie mainly shoots with a 5DmkII now. Also digital medium format backs too…but every project I’ve seen her on lately she’s holding a 5D. Well, she sits and waits for everything to be set up and gets handed a 5D by her army of assistants and THEN uses it I mean.

  • http://twitter.com/stoyanov stanimir stoyanov

    When I gave Annie as an example, I’m pretty sure she falls under the “high-budget photographic projects” category, not “large format photography.”

  • kabummmm

    he is right for that example above….. painting is a much more complex art and needs more skills from the artist.
    i know fellow photograhers don´t want to hear this…. but it´s correct.
    i can´t paint for my life.. but i could create the image on the left.

    and landscape photography is often waiting for the right moment, searching the right place… and then pressing a button when nature paints the landscape with light.

    compared to a vermeer painting…. what skillset is higher?

  • http://twitter.com/cjblizzard Chris Blizzard

    I copied the quote and made a couple of changes…

    The truth is that very few painters have ever
    produced images with the weight of thought and feeling found in the
    greatest paintings. The camera is certainly an artistic tool, and photos
    can certainly be works of art. But can they be works of art of the same
    order as paintings? Traditional arrogant critics would say no. But the
    real answer is yes. Many paintings lack the depth and heft, the thinking
    sense of composition, that great photography possesses.

    That is why the greatest images of the last 50 years– the images
    people argue about, contest, return to again and again – are not
    paintings but photographs

  • http://www.facebook.com/carin.basson Carin Basson

    “The truth is that very few photographers have ever produced images with the weight of thought and feeling found in the greatest paintings. ”

    Absolutely correct, but if you look at ALL the people who’ve painted only a few of THEM will have produced “images with the weight of thought and feeling found in the greatest paintings”.

    So comparing the masters of paintings to the masses of photography is an unfair comparison. Sure it takes a lot of skill to represent nature in paint, but it also takes a lot of skill (and decent gear) to represent nature with a photo.

    I think it is just as impressive to take a sensor (and lenses, post-processing, etc.) and reproduce what the eye beholds than it is to use paint and brush. I can’t do either particularly well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000170702914 Jeremy Lawrence

    Which reminds me……..whilst sharing a house a few years back the TV was tuned to some arts programme on BBC2 and at one point a close up of an anus appeared. Surprised I asked my mate ‘Is that an arsehole?’ at which point the image cut to Brian Sewell and he replied ‘Certainly is’.

  • JNC

    Glad I only read on the comments section.

  • http://www.facebook.com/don.giannatti Donald Giannatti

    Aren’t we beyond the nonsensical comparison of painting and photography. They are not the same thing, and should not be compared.

    That this neanderthal ‘literati’ is incapable of understanding the basic, easily understood difference between a painting and a photograph says much more about the ‘statist’ approach of the old guard.

    Paintings are mostly about a visual representation based upon a diverse time frame… the painting can be made of something the artist saw, only in their head, or based upon some multiple viewings. It can be totally fictitious, or totally abstracted or totally ‘realistic’ – but it is not in any way dealing with time.

    Photography… which is much harder to do well than painting – is totally dependent on one, terribly ethereal aspect of time.

    Composition, lighting, exposition and everything else that makes a good visual is then perched on the razor edge of time. All of the basics of aesthetics then are poised on that moment of the exposure… the micro-parcel of 1/500th of a second.

    A photograph can not be painted over, or ‘adjusted’ again and again.

    It is that moment, with all of the other elements in tow, that makes a photograph.

    I also do not understand why old, totally out of touch, farts like this keep getting press? Go back to the 19th century and STFU.

  • yonaphoto.com

    Succesful painters are mostly aclaimed by being able to look in the future and produce works (or techniques) that after decennia/centuries are still ‘understood’ and appreciated. So first try comparing the number of musea that showcase paintings with musea that showcase photographs…
    Given that photography hasnt ‘matured yet in that way, and thus claiming photography lacks weigh and heft will soon need to be rethought by people who think like this… as photography hasnt been around for so long

    This critic obviously lack the ability to peek into the future! :)

  • TigerPal

    I respect Graham-Dixon as an art critic and I like his BBC documentaries, but I think he is on thin ice here. I have heard many compare McCurry’s Afghan girl with the Mona Lisa. Of course not all photographers are artists but then neither are all who paint or draw a picture.

  • http://twitter.com/Mike_Philippens Mike Philippens™

    Useless discussion. It’s a matter of opinion. Just like every artform. There is no rigth an wrong or nice/not nice. If you like it, it’s nice (for you). That’s about it. You can act semi-intelligent about it, but if I hate the looks of the so calles greatest painting in history, I don’t care…I just hate it. I’m not going to like it more because som critic says or thinks so.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lostark Noah Fence

    I have discovered photography. Now I can kill myself. I have nothing else to learn. – Pablo Picasso

  • Colin Elliot

    Equally, very few painters have ever produced images with the weight of thought and feeling found in the greatest paintings.