The visual arts: Photography and painting


The word “photography” is made up of two Greek words, photos, “light”, and Grapho, to “write”. This is a good name for the process; for the picture we get in a photograph has been, literally, drawn by the light of the sun. It is a picture taken by means of the chemical action of the light on a sensitized film; a “light picture”.

Photographs and paintings:

What is the difference between photography and painting? To begin with, painting is a fine art; and only people who have a natural gift for that art can produce paintings of any merit. To produce really great paintings calls for real genius, and certain great artists have won immortal fame by their beautiful paintings. Painters like the Italian Raphael and Tintoretto, the French Corot, the Flemish Rubens, the English Turner, and Reynolds, were great geniuses; and but genius could have produced their great pictures.

On the other hand, while it requires some knowledge skill and cares to take good photographs, photography can scarcely be called an art; and almost anyone can be a good photographer with practice. After all, it is not the photographer, but the Sun, that makes the photograph. The photographer’s skill comes in mainly manipulating his camera, developing the negatives and printing the positives. All this can be learned by any intelligent person.


This explains the essential difference between a photograph and a painting. If you compare a painting and a photograph of the same scene, you will at once notice differences. There will be objects in the photographs that are not in the painting. Some objects that are insignificant in the photograph will be brought out to great prominence in the painting; while the painting will treat others lightly which stand out boldly in the photograph. The light effects and the perspective may not be the same in photography and painting. You can see that the same scene is depicted in both, but with subtle differences.


Why is this? The photograph represents the scene just as it appeared during the few seconds of exposure. It is more or less accurate representation of the view at that moment of time. The painter sees the same scene and the same objects, but they make a particular impression on his mind and feelings. He aims, not at producing an exact and accurate representation of the scene. His picture is meant to give those who see it what the artist saw in the scene, and what feelings it aroused in his heart. So he practices selection; omitting anything that is not essential to, or that would clash with, his main object; and emphasizing everything that will deepen the impression he wants to create.


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