The camera in art -
The foe to graphic art

While the practice - associated mostly with portraiture - of painting on sensitized canvas or ivory over a photograph, or over a reflected image may be right and proper when pursued by a master, it is more often a substitute for inadequate draughtsmanship. The question is often asked, Is the camera of any use to the artist? When photography first became popular, it was freely predicated that it would supplant painting, and thus would terminate the artist's period of usefulness. Nothing of the kind has happened, but the new craft has served to emphasize the importance of selection and arrangement in picture making, by virtue of the fact that its capacity is limited to literal representation.

My own experience is that a rough pencil note is far more valuable than a snap-shot, and I never heard of a landscape painter who thought otherwise. Many cherish the idea that a photograph is an exact presentment of nature, and accept without question the paradox that a photograph cannot lie. Actually there never was a more unmitigated liar. Not only does a lens distort forms, but the ordinary plate makes an unholy mess of colour in its tone relations. Yellow becomes black, and blue white. Black sunflowers against a white sky - what a travesty!

Distortion in one way and another is nearly always present in a photograph and this defect has been used for a dishonest corroboration of the angler's story of the mythical and monstrous fish he caught. The family group is familiar , with baby in front, good tempered perhaps, but many sizes too large, being out of focus. But the most amusing distortions are those produced by the telescopic lens, which contrives to eliminate perspective completely. The small camera we take with us on vacation gives pitiable records of the mountains we have climbed; they have shrunk to mere molehills by the time we get them home. And this is not, as the misguided enthusiast ensures us, because of the wide angle of lens vision, but because it is not in the nature of lenses to tell the whole truth. They are instruments of exaggeration and belittlement.

Action pictures at first were thought to eclipse anything that a draughtsman could produce, but when the novelty wore off snaps of a horse galloping, or of a man walking, were admitted to be ungainly, unconvincing and almost unnatural - very different to the artist's accepted statement of similar actions. The latter more logically depicted action in its arrested phases - moments of rest at the beginning of a movement, the peak, the end - which are the only phases the human eye perceives, and thus can accept as expressive. These moments are difficult to catch and are, indeed, rarely caught by the camera, especially in rapid action. the snap shot is of little use in the studio.

Moving water as recorded by the camera, has an imminent rigidity, which suggests corrugated iron or ice. The artist who paints it successfully arranges his lines and masses rhythmically so that ripples and waves seem wet, limpid and lively. What he paints is not a replica of the scene before him - not a series of portraits of individual ripples, but a pattern representing an epitome of the whole movement.

Artistic photographs are produced - it would be foolish to deny it - but many of them only after an arduous faking of the plate or the print, which opens the question as to whether a photographer, skilful enough to fake, would not be better employed with a brush, a box of paints, and a clean sheet of paper.



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