In the Tyler studios, there’s an ongoing conversation around the problematics of painting from photographic references. I think this is an important issue to think about. Below, “the challenge" summarizes a common argument against working from photos. My response follows.
The challenge: To work from a photograph is to weigh a painting down with needless, complicating baggage. The camera does not see as the eye sees, or the imagination, or memory--when we paint representationally from photographs, we're letting a coldly inhuman machine mediate our account of the world. It's impossible to use a picture "just as a reference.” To paint from photographs is to succumb to our problematic, mainstream culture of letting photographic images “stand in” for real world experiences. The only ok way to do it is very conceptually, intentionally, and making a good painting is hard enough without that extra struggle.
In my own work, I alternate between painting from photography and using inventive abstraction. This is a critical, generative back-and-forth. It's like rubbing a stick between two palms. The painting (ideally) becomes a complex, new space, with markers of photographic perception. I think the photographic bits do, consciously, invoke Realism--as in the reality of how we see the world through photography. I think my work treads a line between idealism and a cynical view of present affairs.
We live in the 21st century, denying photography's infiltration of human perception can only seal Painting's fate of obsolescence. Why not deal with this reality through a self-conscious use of photographic references?
The whole argument feels tied to the belief that painting and art are irreconcilable disciplines. It's an idea I’ve encountered in American universities as well as in alternative academies--when I was studying under Odd Nerdum, a prominent student literally laughed in my face when I declared that I aspired to be both a good painter and an artist. But why the hell not shoot for both?