the picture above we are in front of a painting that was
presented at the Shanghai Biennial of Art in 2006. The painting
is based on the perceptions associated with photography,
to the extent that the men depicted in the painting appear
in a pose usually associated with portrait photography.
If we have any doubts about that, just behind these three
Chinese gentlemen, you will find another painting depicting
a man in the process of taking a photograph of precisely
those same three men in the foreground of the painting.
Now mind you, you are in fact looking at all of this through
a photograph which is the one that is looking at the overall
painting. We have the back and forth echoes between photography
and painting that is the subject of this editorial.
A lot of modern art is based upon the use of photography
as a reference. Quoting Francis Bacon: “One thing
which has never been really worked out is how photography
has completely altered figurative painting.”
John Deakin of George Dyer of Soho,
Study for head
by Francis Bacon of George Dyer.
has been clear for quite some time now, however, that
photography has in fact influenced painting. And yet,
it remains unclear how painting has been influencing
photography in later days. Nevertheless, that has started
to change with the appearance of digital tools that
allow photographers the same creative freedom with the
image that has been so prevalent in painting.
is a photograph I took in India, and then transformed
in a painterly manner, with Corels’ Painter program.
I have been asked many times why do I choose to manipulate
the image so that it is neither a straight photograph
and nor is it really a painting in the sense of how
the materials are being used.
What we are dealing with
here is really something different and new, which has
yet to be fully understood as to technical
and artistic implications. I already discussed some
of these ideas in Editorial
No. 68 of November 2006. Which I would encourage
you to revisit.
believe we have entered a new era where the once defined limits
between photography and painting, and their respective fields
of activity no longer have very meaningful boundaries.
We have learned that the once sacrosanct notion that a photograph was a very faithful representation of reality, in fact never was the case and we have now entered into an era with new variables, were the subjective representation on any subject is also a very meaningful way to address serious human concerns, which in turn can lead us reflect on the world around us.
such a context I would like to introduce you to the Pingyao
twins. I found this old picture of the Pingyao twins, during
my recent visit to China. I had the opportunity to meet with
them, which led me to understand that the picture was in fact
not that old, but was just badly taken care off. The men still
wore the type of attire that was used extensively during the
era of chairman Mao. A period during which more than 75 million
people lost their lives.
fact that they were twins was a way for their parents to overcome
the ban on families having more than one child, however any government
subsidy was lost on account of the law that did not allow for
more than one child. Their parents felt they were particularly
blessed to have had the birth of two boys. Having just one boy
was something that most families cherished, girls were tolerated
for the most part but not really welcomed into the world, not
at least, as much as boys. The presence of a boy was a way to
assure the family that there would be some form of sustenance
in the parents old age, a form of retirement insurance. So imagine
the pleasure when nature brought into their household these twins.
fact that they dressed alike was not unusual, as in fact most
people wore the same type of clothes. Only in more recent times,
with China becoming a factory to the world, with most clothing
bearing the label, “made in china”, have the citizens
of China adopted the fashions of the west. So it is not unusual
to find older men, still wearing the clothes of a previous era,
much the same as their beard, also associated with a period
previous to the modern era of China.
name of the man on the left is Mr. Ping, and the one on the
right was Mr. Yao, which was truly surprising given that the
name of the city is Pingyao. Apparently this was for them an
honor to bear the name of their city in this way. Pingyao, was
the Wall Street of China at one time, as it was located on the
trade routes between Beijing and X’ian. Pingyao developed
into a merchant center where enterprising locals set up the
nations earliest banks. These institutions were the first ones
in China to use checks, and business peaked in the 19th. Century.
when the city was the undisputed financial center of the Qing
Most of the Pingyao local people originated from business families, and these twins were no different. They came from a wealthy family, but of course the revolution took it all away from them, and today they are but very small shop owners.
we have to consider now is what this damaged photograph actually
represents in terms of the tradition of documentary imagery
and how it all relates to art. We are told if a picture is old,
it becomes by it’s very nature a document of a past era,
and therefore the patina of being old is a form of assurance
that we have a document in front of us. The term artistic is
also associated with imagery that bears the traces of time if
for no better reason than its alleged rarity. Something so appreciated
in the art world.
what would you say if I told you that this image is in fact
nothing of the sort of what you just read and that I created
it with the aid of my digital tools. The truth behind this image
is that I was riding along in Pingyao (which history is really
as I told it) in a bicycle pulled rickshaw and was taking images
as I rode along. With the aid of a fast camera that allowed
me to shoot very fast (all digital of course) I was able to
take two consecutive images of the same man. I later cut the
image out of one and superimposed it on the second image, creating
the effect of the twins. Of course the cutting had to be done
with a lot of exquisite attention to detail, so as to retain
all the hair and transparency of the eye glasses with respect
to the background. Later I added the film frame, also by digital
means and used a file taken from a database of film alterations
to introduce the patina of time. (see
original files here)
So now you have to question yourself with regard to what you have in front of you. What is the difference between a painting that takes a photograph as its source, a photograph that is painterly with the same straight image as it source, or a photograph that appears to be artistic because of the patina of time and a credible story to surround it, but is in fact a fiction, which deals with information that in essence is all true. The only aspect which was not factual, was that the twins actually never existed and the photograph was not an old one.
the recently made film BORAT, the cross between fiction and
reality and the constant doubt with regard to the veracity of
what we seem to have witnessed is part of its charm. The film
notwithstanding all these doubts brings up countless issues
that are very important to discuss about how the american public
sees itself and the rest of the world.
would hope that we are at a stage when we can actually liberate
photography and unleash its great creative potential in order
to make great documentary fictions that make us see the world
in new ways.
Pedro Meyer January 2007
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