I love painting. Winslow Homer, the Ashcan School, Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth, Vilhelm Hammershøi and a host of others — they all move me. For years I photographed in black and white on film. Then, as now, I love the medium. Many of those images are on this website. But throughout that period I envied painters and their ability to embrace a palette, to create fictional spaces and characters, to rely upon surfaces and textures and create lighting to capture a mood or emotion. In the early days of photography many of the practitioners of that new medium sought to create images that were deemed painterly, but the advent of the f64 school and other movements saw those early efforts soundly disparaged in some quarters.
Over the last few years, as I transitioned to digital cameras and a Photoshop/Epson printer “darkroom”, I began to explore the ever softening boundary between photography and painting. Unlike an image captured on film and printed through the analogue technology of the enlarger, in the digital realm there is no inherent visual structure to be found. Film has grain, digital photographs are made from binary code. Grain looks like something (however it may be manipulated). To the extent that a digitally captured image is rendered on an inkjet printer, it will appear to be a traditional silver print only if the engineers who designed the equipment and software — and the photographer who uses it — consciously choose to make it appear so. Software such as SilverEfex Pro (now available for free as a plug-in for many editing packages) and modern printers do a remarkable job of creating this appearance. However, for me, the ability of that same equipment to make an image that has many qualities of a painting has opened up new vistas for me.
The issue for me is not how to create a photograph that looks like a painting. Rather, the opportunity is to create an image that comes closer to the visions that I have carried in my head and which move me. It is the melding of elements of both photography and painting that intrigues me. I aim for a dialogue between the two. I find that visual conversation enriching. This personal evolution has also inspired me to study painting close up and to understand the techniques and choices available to painters — choices that are now available to me as a photographer. Over the last few years I have spent many enjoyable hours at museums and galleries, often standing inches from the paintings in front of me in an effort to understand how specific visual effects were created. I am then challenged to take that understanding back to my studio and attempt to activate that knowledge in the medium of digital photography, editing and printing.
This exploration has also opened up the opportunity for constructed images. Like a painter, I am able to isolate specific parts from multiple images and then rearrange them in a composition that reflects my own vision. I now make photographs of interior spaces, landscapes, objects and people with the express intention of extracting their essential features to be incorporated into a construction image entirely within my own imagination. Some of these interior spaces do not exist anywhere except in my mind. In some instances, I am extracting elements from photographs taken years apart to create a final product. This is hugely satisfying for me. Sometimes the overall composition will not reveal itself for weeks. Like a painter or an author I can return to my fictional world and rework this or that feature of the photograph until that moment arrives when I feel it is done.
Let me give you an example of one.
These are the extracted elements for the photograph “Eilidh in the dunes”. The image of Eilidh was made about four years ago. The clouds came from a photograph made five years before that. The house and grass were from an iPhone image made in Truro Massachusetts (where Hopper painted extensively) in 2016. The shadows (the fourth panel below) and other parts of the final image were drawn in by me.
My vision is romantic. I enjoy story telling -- or at least the half telling of stories that invite the viewer to finish the tale based on their own experience and emotional life.
I am asked from time to time “is that a painting or a photograph”? I am always pleased with the question. The answer is “it does not matter. What counts is whether you enjoy it, whether it evokes some sense of satisfaction within you.” There are no rules, except to enjoy the freedom of the new tools that let us translate our vision into printed images.