Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Use of Photographs

This is the image I had posted on Facebook that started this
whole rant. The person also mentioned that she
liked "these people groups" and I should "look at Raphael
so I could get a sense of how to make them work together".
For those of you who are "friends" with me on Facebook, you know that I post updates of what I am painting quite frequently there. One can see the "rough drafts" of my works in progress. I do this because I think it's good for people to see my process and more importantly, it avoids them confusing my paintings for photographs (which used to happen quite frequently when I started this series...weird, huh?). I have also made numerous references to the fact that I use old photographs (mostly from the 30s and 40s) as reference material. In fact, if you read my artist statement or the bio on this blog, I clearly state that I use these photographs as inspiration and as a reference for my paintings.

I mention this because recently I received a message from someone on Facebook (a "friend" that I actually don't know) who said that I shouldn't "broadcast that [ I ] got [my] picture from Flickr because that's just saying that [I] knocked off someone else. Hope you knew that." HUH??? This was in reference to a recent painting that I had posted to which someone else had said it was a great image and wanted to know where I got it from. I stated that I had gotten it from Flickr. Since when was the use of photographs as a references source considered "knocking someone off"?

Back in the olden days (think WAY back), when there were a lot more classical realist artists out there, using a photograph was considered cheating. "True" artists were to only make paintings from "true"life. They didn't cheat by using a photograph, in fact during most of this time, photographs did not exist. Still lifes and models were  set up for many hours of "live" painting. This was the norm. When photography was invented, some people thought that these photographs could not capture the true essence of the subject like seeing it in person could. That was a long time ago and technology has come a long way.  And while there are still classical realists out there who still do not use photographs (we haven't even mentioned the plein air artists out there), to which there is absolutely nothing wrong with, MANY artists now use photographs as reference material.

So how then does my using an image from Flickr, which has thousands of old photographs categorized by era, considered a "knocked off" of someone else? Is the issue more that the image came from Flickr? Would I not be considered a "knock off" if I physically found the photo myself elsewhere? In this age where everything is readily available via the internet, why wouldn't I use a source that contains thousands of photographs, more than I could ever find on my own? Most of these are snapshots that are in the "found photos" category so it's not an issue of copyright (and those who do not want you to download their posted image have the option of disabling the download.) I am not using, nor have I ever used, another photographer's/ artist's published photos (most of these images on this section of the site are not posted by the people who actually took the photo) and am I also not using an artist's painting as a reference. I don't see what the problem is with my use of old photographs as references, especially since this series is about resurrecting old photos and memories, in a more contemporary way. This, by the way, is clearly stated in my artist statement.

So, what then was the problem with my getting a reference photo from Flickr? What prompted this person to send me such a message? I'm not actually sure but here is some of this person's last comments for you to ponder. "I think it matters where you get the photos from, maybe you should too". Hmmm.

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