The paintings in this series are based on Pictorialist photographs from the turn of the last century (1880 to 1914).
I started each painting by using the original black-and-white photographic image as a source to make fully-realised charcoal drawings on wood panels. The oil paint is added on top of this; the colour is of my own devising; it was not an aspect of the original photograph.
The Pictorialist photographers were interested in using the camera and the photograph as an expressive technique and medium. They eschewed the documentary aspect of photography inherent in the camera’s indexical nature—a fact used by early critics of photography to minimalize the expressive (aka “artistic”) potential of the medium. The Pictorialists were committed to seeing the photograph as a work of art, not as simply an image made by a “machine”. Their grainy, soft-focused images were characterised by strong contrasts and deep, obscuring shadows.
My use of charcoal drawing in my work throughout the past is an obvious connection to the stylistic aspects of Pictorialist photographs. In fact, I have used some of the Pictorialist images as references in a few of my previous paintings. In this series, however, I am retaining the original photograph’s proportions, using the “left-over” space in the square format of the paintings for stripes, or bars, of colour.
By re-stating the original photographic image in a contemporary context, I am also interested in looking at things that were considered “beautiful” in their time, questioning whether this idea of “beauty” is still relevant within a contemporary context.
- Stephen Hutching, 2021