Friday, 11 November 2011

Why Not Just Keep The Photo?

The following words were written by my friend and top pencil artist Armin Mersmanm and I agree with every one of them. I couldn't have written down my thoughts so well so I'm sharing this with his permission. I think it goes a long way to answering the above question so often spouted by non-photorealism enthusiasts.

"When one works in realism you will get the often used cliché 'why not just take a photograph' as in a private note I received.

If copying without change, construction and re-invention, be it from a photograph or from life, then the creative process is not addressed, in this case I agree there is a useless element about it. It becomes a fundamental exercise at best. There is nothing wrong with these exercises if it improves your knowledge and skills as a technician. But if your aim is only to draw 'like a photo' I’m afraid you will never attain what 'art' has to offer. Also I think too many photo-realists rely on technical eye candy alone with no imagination, in some sense just a limited skill in observation and a stunted creative process. Working in this manner should be a foundation to build on, not an end goal.

My goal as a realist is to understand complexities and details; my interest is how the human eyes perceive not how a camera sees. The hallmark of photorealism is not capturing distortion and out of focus areas precisely how the camera does, I’m aware of these things and eliminate most of them.

My journey begins at the first look of my model, the drawing process then becomes an all consuming study. When I complete the work I develop an understanding of the subject that’s both heightened and very personal. After spending hundreds of hours drawing a person’s face, all the while observing the small details that cause 'likeness', a journey takes places that cannot be achieved by any other means.

I don’t draw just what I see, it’s a combination of facts and feelings that would not work from just a snap of a shutter. I change and alter many things from the reference photos. To me they are just a blueprint, an informal guide at best. I transform not just translate what I am observing. I look at small particulars of a person that cannot be seen or deciphered by 'normal' cameras. I delete, enhance, elaborate, exaggerate, alter and reinvent and I do this by putting it through my own psyche. I change what’s in front of me, not for the sake of change but because it’s inevitable and expected, it’s filtered through 40 plus years of living. I have 100% control of every aspect of the final image. Can this be done with a photo and Photoshop? Maybe, but not with my unique technical and artistic language.

In the end, it’s a matter of the artist-viewer connection this will not happen every time, but when it does that’s the magic of the artistic continuum."

Below is a portrait I completed a couple of years ago after I first came across and got inspired by Armin's work.

I wrote a blog about it here at the time. Although technically not as accomplished as Armin's work it is to date possibly the one I am most proud of as it was spawned more by an idea and a story rather than the photographic references.

Here is the story behind the portrait.

After watching the Ray Mears TV series about the exploration and opening up of Canada, I was inspired to read more. I came across a character named Pierre Esprit Radisson and researched a bit about his life which further inspired me to create my impression of perhaps what he looked like. Obviously there was no reference material for me to use so I came up with this rugged, weather beaten face with signs of exhaustion and something a little mad about the eyes. I hope I did him justice.

Below I have written a condensed version of his story, based on the material I found. Perhaps it may be of some interest to some of my Western art collectors.

Explorer, adventurer, soldier of fortune and one of the originators of the Hudson's Bay Company. Pierre-Esprit Radisson is one of the most romantic and awe inspiring explorers of the Canadian North and West.

Born in France in 1636 virtually no information survives concerning his early life. His story begins when, as a young man in 1651 he somehow made his way to New France, to Trois- Rivieres to join his half sister Marguerite. Her husband had died at the hands of the Iroquois but she had re-married to a man named Medard Chouart Des Groseilliers who was to share many of the adventures of Radisson.

Around 1652 Radisson was captured by the Iroquois, was adopted by an Indian family, and spent some 2 years traveling and hunting with his captors. He escaped in 1654 and arrived back in Three Rivers later that year. He remained in New France for the next 4 years, except for one more trip made to the Iroquois territory near Albany.

Radisson's first trip west was undertaken with his brother-in-law in 1659, an unlicensed fur trading expedition. They wintered southwest of Lake Superior in Sioux country. During this trip the two men first heard of 'The Bay Of The North Sea (Hudson Bay) and the treasure of beaver to be found in that area. In the spring Radisson and Des Groseilliers returned to Montreal laden with furs, most of which were promptly confiscated by the corrupt Governor's officials. From this point on Radisson became a soldier of fortune, patriotism played no more part in his adventures.

From 1662 to 1664 the two men operated from New England and tried - unsuccessfully - to reach Hudson Bay by sea. In 1665 they set sail for London to find backing for their plan of reaching the interior and the fur producing regions by by-passing the St Lawrence River. Unfortunately their ship was captured by the Dutch, with whom England was then at war. Put ashore in Spain, the two eventually made it to London in time to witness the great fire and the ravages of the Black Death.

They were able to interest some English merchants in their plan and a voyage aboard the ship Nonsuch proved that it was not only possible but profitable. On May 2nd 1670 the Hudson's Bay Company began its long and highly prosperous career. During the next few years, Radisson established the Nelson River post and served as guide, translator and advisor.

Mistrusted by the company, in 1675 the brothers-in-law deserted and resumed their French allegiance. It was not a rewarding transfer, Radisson serving as a French navy mid-shipman and went campaigning in the Caribbean. He was back at Hudson Bay again in 1681 and was rejoined there by Des Groseilliers. The following year the Compagne Du Nord contracted him to challenge the English traders in Hudson Bay. Radisson destroyed the rival posts and established Fort Bourbon on the Nelson River.

Once again, they felt that they were being unsatisfactorily rewarded by the French so, when his brother-in-law returned to Canada, Radisson turned up in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company once more in 1684.

He was sent back to the bay, where he persuaded the French at Fort Nelson to abandon their allegiance and all their furs. Radisson made his last trip to Hudson Bay in late 1685 remaining there for 2 years, but again became disillusioned with the company. He returned to England finally settling near London. Radisson was married three times during his incredible life, dying aged 74 in 1710 survived by several children.

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