Nate Gerry12/20/2017Rick LoveArt3162 Photography andImpressionism19th and 20thcentury art has sparked a large interest in what photography does to an artist.How does it affect us as we work in our fields? Why do we compare ourselves tophotography to such detail? These were the questions I set out with on thisadventure and the questions that I plan to answer. The first photo evertaken by the French inventory Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1826. This photographis a one of a kind, the process did not provide for a transparent negative orfor multiple printings on paper.
Since he could produce only a singularphotograph, the view that he creates is unique. The image itself depicts theview from an upstairs window at his estate, Le Gras, in the burgundy region ofFrance (Harry Ransom Center,N.D.). If you went to go lookat the photograph today, it is not what you would expect, since the photographitself has faded quite a bit.
This is because of the way he created it. He hadmixed powdered bitumen of Judea with water to create a thick tar like substancethat he painted onto a flat pewter plate. Which he then used heat to dry thebitumen mixture onto the plate, he then took that plate and placed it into thecamera that was looking outside. The interesting thing is that this wasn’t aninstant process, but the exposure had to last up to eight hours. Afterwards,the plate was washed with a mixture of oil of lavender and white petroleum,this dissolved the parts of bitumen that had not been hardened by sunlight.
Inresult, the lighter shades were represented by the hardened bitumen layers andthe darker shades by bare metal. The plate was then removed from the liquid andair-dried on a drying rack resulting in a permanent direct positive picture (Harry Ransom Center,N.D.). This informationabout the plate and Joseph comes from the Harry Ransom Center in Texas. Forfurther information, please head to their site.View from the Window atLe Gras, Nicéphore Niépce, France, 1826The photo itself is 20.
3x 16.5 cm on a pewter plate (Niépce, N. n.d). The photo has seen some toughertimes. It has become nearly invisible and has also been digitally enhanced sothe viewer can see it better. There are a lot of scuff marks along the edges ofthe pewter plate, 3 major dents on the top and bottom left, and one dent on thebottom right.
The colorization has faded and has become a somewhat blueishblack tone with an orange look for the brightness of the sky. Without properlighting, you can’t see much of the original image. The view that it depicts issomewhat cryptic at first glance. Also, the texture of the plate has lots ofscratches and almost feels a bit bumpy. Parts of the image itself has faded tothe tone of the pewter plate as well, mainly around the edge of the plate andaround some of the major dents in the paper.
There are also deep scratches on thetop right, this doesn’t affect the image too much for it’s around the border.Some have enhanced the image to show what it originally would have looked like,shown below.View from the Window atLe Gras, Nicéphore Niépce, France, 1826At first, I had issuesfiguring out how I was going to write about photography so I had scheduled ameeting with my Professor, Rick Love.
He talked me through a bit aboutphotography and research papers in general, but he also gave me some greatresources. Through this I began to learn more about photography and understandmy quest for answers. The book in reference is “Secret Knowledge” by DavidHockney.
He was in a similar position as me. He asked himself, how do theseartists draw so well, he himself was a very talented drawer, but he knew hecouldn’t accomplish what they had. So, he set out on a very similar quest tome. He began by collecting all the great works from people and lined them upacross a wall. He was then able to pinpoint where he noticed the change in drawing.With this massive wallof art, he could point the difference in change of art. He could see how thelines were a bit too precise to be drawn from an eye.
He compared the artworkto itself and others near it. Faces begun to look too confident and contradictthe style of the artist on the rest of the piece. The swiftness of lines hepoints out doesn’t not look “groped” for. The form was so precise and accuratehe states.
“I think he did the head first by looking at the lady through acamera Lucida and making a few notations on the paper, fixing the position ofher hair, her eyes, her nostrils and the edges of her mouth.” While thenfinishing the piece by eyeballing it (Hockney D,2009).This whole quest thatDavid was on, made me realize that I am in the same boat. Why do we compareourselves to the camera? Why did this affect the impressionist artist and whydoes this still affect us today? Considering the manwho made the first photograph and the time around him, I began to understand alittle more about him. Joseph Niépce was born on March 7th, 1765 andlived until 1833. The interesting thing is that he was the son of a wealthyfamily suspected of royalist sympathies.
He had fled the French Revolution butended up returning and serving under Napoleon Bonaparte. I was curious how thiswould influence the rest of his life after being dismissed because of illhealth. He then settled near his native town of Chalon-sur-Saône and proceededto be engaged in research for the rest of his life (Biography of Joseph-NicéphoreNiépce, N.D.). With Joseph beingengaged in research after serving in the army and have dedicating his time toresearch, he was able to invent an internal-combustion engine with his brother,Claude. This then lead to when lithography became a fashionable hobby in Francein 1813, 20 years before his death. He then moved his research to finding a wayto provide images automatically, which then lead to him seeking photography in1816 (Biography ofJoseph-Nicéphore Niépce, N.
D.). This is where the first photograph comes in, he could use theexperience he had and the time he was able to spend after the illness to workon research and create the first photograph. What caught my eyewas that he was not able to figure out a way to reduce the amount of exposureneeded for the photograph he created. So, in 1829 he gave in to the repeatedovertures of Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, a Parisian painter, for apartnership to perfect and exploit heliography. But he died before he could seeany further advance. Although, Daguerre could greatly reduce the amount ofexposure time through his discovery of a chemical process for development (Biography ofJoseph-Nicéphore Niépce, N.
D.). It is interesting to see how his illness turned him away fromthe war and brought him to research. The French revolution was resolved beforethe first photograph came about. Without the illness, would he have been ableto still create the photograph and have his work be the foundation to morephotographs? I think that the war shaped him to be the man that he was and thatit pushed him to devote his life to research.
Having beendischarged from the war he was able to devote his time to research. Without it,we may not have gotten the type of photography we have today. I think thisshows how it affects us today. It shows how if we fully devote our time to asingle thing, we can strive in that field.
As artists, we strive for perfectionand the creativity supports that, but without being able to devote a lot oftime to it, it will be very hard to get anywhere with it. This is where Josephwas a bit lucky in a sense. He could take the time available to him and devotehimself to photography and produce something huge. There have been afew things that I have found exciting about the topic of photography. It isintriguing to see how the first photograph was made and how it allowed peopleto continue working and figure out a way to get the camera to where we are nowand how instant it is. The camera is in a state where we can take out a cell phoneand snap a photo and consider that art.
We take a complex idea of the firstcamera and how it changed art in that time to where we have instant photos inour current time, we notice it has the same effect. The camera changes thestyle of art people choose to create. We went from perfection in art to animpressionist style because the artists in that time wanted to show somethingthe camera couldn’t. In their time, perfection became something not to desire,but to avoid.
Compared to today, we have been influenced by the camera withlooking for perfection again, but this time, we have the option to make itperfect or make it so un-perfect that a camera can’t replicate it. For example,in a 3D world and renders, we strive to show the most realistic display of ourobjects so it looks photo-realistic, instead of making it more of an art formand follow an impressionist style. It is also nice to see how much they had touse chemicals to make the photographs, when now it’s a fully digital processand it doesn’t require chemicals to produce. It has beenchallenging to focus on one certain part of the topic and not go too broad.It’s challenging to not write a book report either. It’s fascinating to learnabout photography and how it all started, but to focus on the topic ischallenging. How did the impressionist get affected by photography when it’sbecame more sought after then realistic paintings? How did that make them feel?It’s challenging to find information and have experiences on this topic aswell.
Searching for explanations on my questions and information on the timeand people is difficult. It’s also difficultto try and find good resources for this. The MIA is a good place to go, butevery day is busy with work and classes all day. Also, the internet is verylittle help when it comes to this topic and books are very broad in the topic.Trying to figure out what are the right questions to ask when researching andfiguring out the right people is difficult. The topic is different fromanything else I have written about, finding the balance on information andresearch to present is a hard one to manage.
I wanted to look atphotography from a different standpoint, to try and understand how it likes todefine us as artists today. I figured the best starting point is to look at howit affected impressionist of the time, compare the artwork from before thecamera was invented to after it was invented. For example, romantic artistsranged from the 1800’s-1860’s while impressionist’s movement started around the1860’s with the invention of the camera in between there. Let’s look at aromantic piece of art and an impressionist piece of art and see what we can make of it. Left: The wanderer abovethe sea of fog, Caspar David Friedrich, Germany, 1818Right: ImpressionSunrise Claude Monet, France,1872 Here are two examplesabove. The first piece is by Casper David Friedrich, the second is by ClaudeMonet.
First thing to note is that Claude Monet was born in 1840, and theartwork was created in 1871. (Claude Monet, N.D.) This shows how much time has passed since the camera wascreated. We can see the major difference right off the bat. On the left, we seehow more realistic the artwork is, we can see the background almost clearerthen the first camera.
The strokes are more defined, and the colors andblended. We get a much more realistic feel to the artwork. We do see how on theright, the colors are blended, but we get a sense of emotion. The color is morevibrant seeming showing the impressionists could explore more feels to the art.
We can tell that in the artwork there is water, but it’s not clearly paintedthat way. We get the sense of motion in the stroke rather than detail. It seemsthat Claude Monet could explore more with color and less detail and get more ofan expression out of the art work. Looking at bothartworks together, we can see the difference right away. I get the sense of thecamera having to do with it. Artists could explore more because the cameracreated this sense of freedom. People wanted realistic artwork, but with thecamera, how could artists compare with a paint brush? This is where I believethey felt they needed to be different.
They made more abstract artwork, you canunderstand the art, but why is it different? How am I understanding what it is? Taking thisunderstanding on how we can view impressionist artwork, we can then relate thisidea to today. We can see that artists that were impressionists were able tocreate work that was different from what was expected of them. They seemed toreach for a broader understanding in what they were creating.
Today, we chooseto create art that is different, unique, whether the camera is something wechoose to compare ourselves to or not, it does still affect us. For example, ina 3D modeling class, we aim to make things as realistic as possible, this stemsfrom the camera and how realistic that image is. If we don’t reach that image,why is it worth creating the art that isn’t realistic? This then ties back toimpressionists, why do they make the art that is not realistic? I wanted to takeanother look at the first photograph and look at it with semiotics because Ifeel this has a large sum to do with photography. Therefore, the impressionistswent the route they did. We look at photography and we can ask ourselves, whydo we know this is a photograph and not a piece of art that is oil on canvas?This is because when we look at an art piece, we can see the strokes that theartists create and the color they felt most represented the ideas of their artand what the art should possess. The Boulevard Montmartreon an Winter Morning Camille Pissarro, France, 1897Looking at this art piece, we can see the visual strokes and brushmarks that Camille Pissarro used.
We can understand what the art is about andmore of the emotion behind the artwork because it’s not perfect, it’s not anexact moment in time that was captured. It shows movement from the strokes,something a photograph cannot. The color is more diverse than the standardphotograph was originally. Showing something in color gives the viewer a senseof calm, or at least more emotion than a simple black and white image. Asidefrom the color, the detail is another part of the piece that sticks out. We cansee how this piece takes place on a winter morning due to the detail of thetrees and the sky in the back of the background. The details seem smudgy, butare precise to the artists desire.
Even the imperfections are complemented withthe surrounding details, unlike a photograph that is perfect in itsrepresentation of a moment that is captured. We can also look atphotography from a Marxist point of view. The people we wanted to have momentscaptured from their life originated for the idea of a painter spending time andcapturing the moment. This requires money, people and time, something thephotograph could reduce the cost of.
We can see how people would want to go ina cheaper route rather than pay more money for an artist that has expensivepaints that they mixed on their own to create something near perfect. Thecamera on the other hand, would have allowed them to take a snapshot of themoment quickly and have a turnaround time quick enough to outweigh the cost ofa painter. This is where I think money becomes a huge factor in the decision toswap what the people wanted.
Unless, you were upper-class and could afford apainter for something you specifically wanted. This is how the impressionistscould come in handy. You can strive for perfection, or for the feeling of theart. The economy could play an important role on the decision to swap to aphotograph or a painter. I know that in today’s modern world, a photograph is amuch simpler and cost-effective way to go instead of trying to paint a momentin time. This could easily translate to how they felt when the camera becamemore popular and easier to use. There still couldhave been drawbacks to choosing to go with photography over paintings.
Not onlya size difference but a durability difference. A painting as seen in the modernworld, has lasted decades, while we look at the first photograph, it is nearlyunreadable and can be half the size of a painting. This is another thing,people would have to consider when choosing to go with an art piece rather thana photograph, outside of its meaning. This is what Ithink impressionists wanted to do when the camera was involved in art. Theycould use a camera to help themselves get the idea of what details they neededto capture, but having this style of artwork helps show what the power ofartists has on people. Someone can pay for a near perfect piece of artwork on acanvas, but can also get a near perfect image from a more easily accessiblecamera. I can imagine people wanted something different, something that strokea different sense of emotion, this is what the impressionist did a good job at.Which is why I think the camera is what made them want to switch their focus toa more abstract art form, and that’s why today, we aim to be better than thecamera or even replicate it.
Looking back at theimpressionists, I think we follow in their footsteps, we strive to be betterthan the camera and what it produces, even if it is quick and easy. I feel thatin today’s modern world, we want to show our talents in a creative way,sometimes it’s being better than the camera, or being abstract with the ideaswe have. But I also feel we can learn from the impressionists for it is not allabout creating something perfect, but creating something that has emotion andfeeling to it. Can you physically see that what we have created is not aphotograph and we can see the time and effort that has been put into it? Theseare some of the goals I think artists today strive to fit towards. Although, thecamera is not a bad thing.
It has brought us a new technology and new art formthat can be appreciated and used to help us create art in a unique way. It allboils down to how you use it and how you compare yourself to the camera, justas the Impressionists once did. BibliographyBann, S. (2011). Artand the early photographic album. Washington: National Gallery of Art.
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