By MICHAEL PERKINS
THE INCREASINGLY COMMON USE OF THE WORD “PAINTERLY” AS A GENERIC COMMENT ON CERTAIN KINDS OF PHOTOGRAPHIC IMAGES has got me grinding my teeth, as it perpetuates the use of a term that is absolutely meaningless. Almost as meaningless as noting, or caring, at this late date, whether elements of painting are present in photos. This argument goes back so far that I feel compelled to provide the following “Cliff’s Notes” in order to compress 150 years of bickering into a compact format. Presenting:
A COMPLETE CHRONOLOGY OF PHOTOGRAPHIC “TRUTH”
a) We are just as good as painting.
b) No seriously, we are.
c) Who said that? We are so not like painting, which is old and tired.
d) Well, we’re a little bit like it, but we kinda feel weird about it.
e) Wow, I’d love to photograph that painting.
f) Man, I’d love to layer paint on that photograph.
g) Hey, I found a way to make my photographs look like paintings!
Enough already. We never praise a painting by saying it looks “Photo-ish”, so why make the opposite comment? What visual flavor makes any image fall on either side of an arbitrary line, and who the $%#&! cares? The only comment that could possibly matter is to remark that something is “a great picture”, but even that is superfluous. Does it speak? Did it work? Is there something there? Was anything amplified, simplified, defined, revealed in said picture?
This kind of semantic drift persists because, amazingly, some people don’t think photography is miraculous enough without being laden with little linguistic Christmas ornaments that display their acumen and intellect. These are the same people who fret that processing is “cheating” and that expensive cameras make better pictures than cheap ones, and it’s a disservice to any authentic discussion, like the fact that those who wield brushes and those who wield Nikons can both exalt, or denigrate, the human experience.
You don’t have to paint me a picture. You just have to tell me a story.
- Blending painterly elements with photography (flickr.net)