Painting with light review of a talk on the Tate Britain exhibition.


Talk review

“Painting with light” The Castle Hotel, Taunton 28/07/2016

The talk on the current exhibition at Tate Britain was well advertised locally.  Amano S. brought it to the attention of the SW OCA group & I decided to go because it sounded like a good theme.  The press release helped form my decision to invite some friends so 4 of us piled in to a car & went up on a lovely summer afternoon.

The press release claimed: Tate Britain uncovers the dynamic dialogue between British painters and photographers; from the birth of the modern medium to the blossoming of art photography. (1)  The key phrase for me in that description was dynamic dialogue which conjured up impressions of idea exchanges, both overt and covert, between the painters and photographers.

The speaker introduced the talk by mentioning the challenges which photography presented to painting and used the 1838 quote,  attributed to but never proved, of Paul Delaroche ‘From today, painting is dead.”  .  She pointed out the differences in size between paintings and their photograph equivalents & this surprised me because when I think of a particular photograph, I am not mindful of its relative size.  This made me reflect on some of the most recent exhibitions I had seen: Alec Soth’s ‘Gathered leaves’  and Joel Meyerovitz’ ‘Cape Light’ .  The 4 Soth projects exhibited in the Science Museum have a range of print sizes from A0+ to 40 x 50cm and I never questioned the rationale behind them.  Why would a photographer exhibit photos in different sizes within the same project (Broken Manual) ?  Why would he/she choose to do them in the same uniform size (Sleeping along the Mississippi)?  Meyerovitz had a standard 40 x 50cm format for all his images.  Also exhibited at the Science Museum at the same time as ‘Gathered leaves’ was an exhibition by Julia Margaret Cameron.  When I saw Cameron’s work, I was not struck by the difference in the size of the  images displayed possibly because there was a uniformity in the range of sizes and because they related to a different era.  The reasoning behind the decisions must depend on the artist or, in the case of posthumous exhibitions, with the curator.

The exhibition is co-curated by Dr Hope Kingsley, Curator, Education and Collections, Wilson Centre for Photography, who also curated the 2013 ‘Seduced by art’ exhibition at The National Gallery, London.  I wrote up my impressions, which, on looking back, are rather forthright, but I re-present them, because I had totally forgotten them,  here.

There were references to the symbiotic relationship and the sharing of ideas between photographers and painters in the 19th C. I was struck by the effects of photography on the painting techniques of the  Pre-Raphaelites  which I had not thought of before.  The speaker also referenced Ruskin & his thoughts on painting & photography (c.1843): ”Reject nothing, select nothing- like a camera.” thus emphasising his truth to nature principles.  Today, with all the 150 years of theory and thinking behind our photography, we might not agree with his assumption.

The development of optics, colours, how they affect us and how they affected the developments in the impressionist movement were all combined in a  presentation of the work of Whistler, Jane Morris & D. G. Rossetti .

A great many paintings and photographs were presented but I was left a little disappointed: yes, I had learned about the  effect of photography on the Pre-Raphaelites; yes I had to appreciate the importance of relative sizes in image presentation & what is said through that presentation, but did I learn more about the ‘dynamic dialogue’ between photography and painting other than a superficial this produced that ? Not really.  It all seemed too superficial a motivation for the exhibition: the image quantity was there but the analytical content was missing, in my opinion.  Did it entice me to go and see the exhibition?  No.






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