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April 17, 2011

Lexington, Kentucky

I'm making good progress wading through the Michael Freeman book 'The Photographer's Mind'. I have to say that I stand in awe of someone who can write such eloquent words but am even more in awe of those readers who can understand it all. Having vowed to not toss aside another half-read book, I've taken to it with the 'underlining & highlighting reading style' recommended by a good friend. It's kept me on track and I'm finding the book to be very rewarding and eye opening...finally. I find lots of writable topics in the book, but I think today I'll write a few words about David Hockney, of all things.

Chapter 3 of the book begins the 'process' section and seems to mark a turn in the style of presentation. In the opening, Freeman talks some about the artist David Hockney who wrote a very controversial book where he proposed that a large number of the great painters throughout history have used optical aids to achieve the great detail that we all know and love. This is probably old news and an old controversy to many but it was very new to me. As the theory goes, an invention named the camera lucida was a type of a prism that could be placed in front of a subject and it would project the scene onto paper for tracing. This was an invention of the very early 1800s but there were other methods used prior to the invention of optics. The camera obscura (the precursor to the modern camera) was largely a pinhole camera style device that could be used to project an image onto a canvas for tracing. Concave mirrors were also another method of tracing available long before modern lenses and projection methods came about.

Today, the Artograph Prism Projector is routinely in use and I've seen it used in my house with great results. In an interesting article on the Washington Post Camera-Works website, Frank Van Riper states that Hockney became interested in this after having a hunch while studying drawings by the 19th Century French artist Jean-Dominique Ingres. He noticed similarities between these and the works of Andy Warhol who used projection traces to make his pop art portraits. From that point, Hockney went backwards to spend years studying his theory. The Camera-Works article had an interesting paragraph where Van Riper talks about how Hockney demonstrated the proof that he uses for the theory. Remember when you first started digital photography and was enamored with the use of saturation, color, distortion correction, and perhaps Photoshop cloning? The results would look perfectly dazzling and flawless. It is only after years of working to be proficient in the art that you can begin to go back to the early works and plainly see the errors that you performed. Hockney demonstrates that these early artists were adopting new technology that they had not fully become proficient with and that allows one to find errors related to the projection. I'm assuming that he means the type of distortion that you could expect from projections: elongation of subject, etc. The article uses an analogy of mastering the shifts and swings of a view camera as an example of what these early painters had to master in order to get the proportions correct by using the new projection methods.

In view of the rivalry that brush-artists and camera-artists often have, I found all of this fascinating. I was once standing in an art gallery with a brush-artist and remarked that I really enjoyed a particular painting and that it reminded me of one of my photographs. The response was that I should bring it to the gallery and have one of the artist paint it, hinting that it would then become real art that I could buy. Hahahaha!

(Edited) Comment from Mike Adkins: Many famous artist used projection techniques as part of their workflow. Norman Rockwell used to pose his subjects.. (snip)... I do not think it is much different than other methods of layout to accomplish your vision.