What is the connection between great works of painting and sculpture, early photographs, and the work of current innovative photographers? Photography first appeared in the 1830s and in many cases attempted to imitate great works of art. Thus painting and sculpture inspired pioneer photographers such as Roger Fenton, Julia Margaret Cameron, David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson. Art critics thought photography produced reality in an over-literal manner and missed the emotive synthesis achieved by paintings. In reaction to this criticism photographers gradually developed their own forms of expression, for example by using light and shade to achieve the psychological depth found in great art. Today, photographers such as Nicky Bird and Craigie Horsfield continue to use that artistic form, while contemplative poses typical of painters are updated in the photographic portrait studies of Maisie Broadhead and Jack Cole. One photo that particularly interested me was Jorma Puranen’s deconstruction of light and shade in Goya’s brilliant 1812-1814 portrait of the Duke of Wellington.
The exhibition examines the continuity of traditional themes such as still life, motherhood, and religious motifs, and demonstrates how photography has developed its own forms of expression and originality. With the nude, photography’s candid view of the human body is an antidote to academic idealisation. Thus the photography of Helen Chadwick and Richard Learoyd re-examines the concept of beauty, contrasting the reality of human flesh with that of pictorial artifice.
If the exhibition moves to Toronto or nearby it is well worth seeing.