Photography: Cousin of Painting or Sculpture?

Common wisdom says that photography and painting are related. They represent attempts to record a three dimensional world in two dimension. So, what is there to talk about?

Photography masters have long studied painters and their perception of space, light and composition. It is a natural relationship and it is true that it is not unfathomable to think that these two art forms have common lineage. Since its invention in the late 19th century, photography has actually been interacting with painting quite a bit and in some cases the end result was almost the same, as in photorealism.

It has been a bumpy relationship of course, like most family relationships are and it almost came to a screeching halt when one fine day in 1839 famous French painter Paul Delaroche declared that “from today painting is dead” when seeing a Daguerreotype, the precursor to modern photography. Up until that point, creating an image of one’s surroundings was entirely the realm of painting and it took skill and time to create. From that fateful moment on though, anyone with a camera could record their surroundings with a click (well, not quite, but you get the point), so there was some jealousy there and the two, photography and painting were not talking to each other for years…

However, there is another, long lost relative of photography, a cousin somewhat younger than painting, but still extremely old. The relationship may not be as easy to spot, but it’s there alright. It is sculpture.

One might point out, and rightfully so, that sculpture is a physical, 3D undertaking   and so is the end product, while both painting and photography are 2 dimensional attempts to record 3 dimensional objects. Well, yes… but we already established that there is indeed a relationship between those two, so let’s move on, shall we?

In sculpture, the artist begins with a big chunk of marble (at least for the needs of this particular argument) and slowly carves out the unwanted parts and with this subtraction, what is left in the end is that part of the whole that he or she had envisioned. It is a “deductive” art if you will, while painting is “additive” for lack of a better word: the painter starts with a white canvas and begins filling it with the image they see or think of. This is a pretty bog difference, right?

In photography, the artist starts with the whole world in front of them and decides what part of this world will fit in their cadre. Photography is as much about what you leave out of the image as it is about what you include in it. In as much as there are countless visual stimuli around us at all times, what we photographers discard as non-photography worthy is a longer and more strenuous process than what little we decide to include. Photography then is another subtractive art and in this respect one can start seeing the family resemblance to that old lady, sculpture.

The similarities of course do not stop there and there are some shared by all three, like the attention to how light and shadow affect the end result and the attention to forms and patterns.

So, one could say that in that genealogical tree, Photography is a the newest addition to the extended family which includes Painting (form the mother’s side) and Sculpture (from the father’s side). There, case closed.