How real is real? Photorealism vs Photography

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Alisa – Monica Lee

“Hi there … umm hi (clears throat). Do you mind if I just chill here for a minute? In your head that is. Sounds strange I know… but I just want to see what you see, hear what you hear and basically be in your reality. Is that cool with you?

So, here I am, in your reality. Wo this is strange. It’s so different to mine even though we’re in the same place, observing the same strangers pass by and letting our ears develop an immunity to the continuous rumblings of city life. Yet, some things are different. We have different memories and different opinions. Also, I’m not a smoker. So I’m not enjoying the persistent taste of tobacco lingering on your tongue … However, your eye sight is amazing! which reminds me – I need to get my eyes checked asap. You know what – I’m not feeling this anymore, but thanks for letting me stop by.”

Ok, where am I going with this post?

This follow up post is inspired by my recent chat with global artist Ben Johnson, who is known for his incredible large-scale city scape and architectural paintings. Each piece shows intricate detail; from the tiny individual windows on the buildings in ‘The Liverpool Cityscape, 2008’ to the expressive figures depicted on the chapel walls in ‘Giotto Chapel, 2009’. Most would describe his work as photo realistic: to the naked eye, it can be deceiving as to whether it is a painting or a photo.

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The Liverpool Cityscape, 2008 – Ben Johnson

There have been many discussions surrounding Photorealism in comparison to Photography. Many have posed the question, ‘why not just take a photo?’. But where’s the fun in that?! Photorealistic paintings are a clear display of an artist taking the time to really observe, appreciate and explore a subject, whether that be a city scape by Ben Johnson, or a portrait by Chuck Close. They have spent years understanding a moment in time, scrutinising the details that one would not normally pick up on. However, going back to the opening paragraph of this post, wouldn’t this be a depiction of their reality rather than ours? Just like, if I was to look out onto Liverpool right now, I would be absorbing that moment differently to someone else.

We all have different realities because we see and experience things differently.

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Fanny / Finger painting, 1985 – Chuck Close

In comparison, photography captures a fleeting moment in time but from different angles. One may perceive ten different shots taken of the same scene as a more accurate portrayal of reality because it shows more of the “bigger picture”. For in reality, there are many corners and turns, not just one static scene. According to Andre Bazin’s Epistemological Realism explanation, photography is a mirror to reality, which is less likely to lead to misinterpretation’. It is difficult to manipulate a photo, however with Photoshop I’m not sure this remains the case! >>insert ‘Humble’ by Kendrick Lamar here<<.

However, just like the painter behind their canvas, the photographer has selected a specific moment in time to capture. They have chosen to zoom in to something they find interesting or have waited for that “perfect” shot.

Both artists and photographers have made a choice. Their realities have led them here and they have chosen to focus on this moment in time. Perhaps it holds a meaning to them or perhaps they just liked the view.

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Pinterest – Paul Mccartney

So, if someone were to step into your mind right now, what would they see? Could they potentially offer a different perspective based on their objective view? If so, what would that be?

Find out what inspires Ben Johnson to study and explore architectural spaces in such detail; and discover some of the inner workings of his mind.

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