Centuries ago we began recording vision with tools like the concave lens which reproduced visual appearances that corresponded with the way our brain constructs images. Hold up a concave lens to a bright scene and it will reflect that scene onto a dark wall. Like our eyes, the image is projected upside down on the wall. Curious to see how vision worked, Kepler dissected the eye of an ox and discovered the image exits the lens upside down. A more controllable and artist-friendly device came later, the camera obscura. The camera obscura also known as the camera ottica is basically a pinhole camera. Add a lens and a mirror and you have a machine of remarkable utility for artists wishing to record appearances. Almost a 1000 years ago Al Haythem ( a.k.a. Al Hazen) constructed and described the first camera obscura. In 1500 DaVinci would describe the camera obscura effect in his notebooks. By the end of the 16th century the little wooden box with a lens, viewing tray, and tent for blocking out the light was on its way to becoming a widespread tool of artists in the studio and in the field. Make your tracing of visual evidence in your camera obscura then later grid the tracing to make a scale-up large painting. Example A shows Canaletto’s camera obscura machine and a drawing (example B) which he is gridding up for a larger painting. The process is not easy because the slightest movement of the camera obscura upsets the image, moves it out of alignment with the tracing. Delicate, steady hands are required. But, painting and the image from a separate lens were merged.
Our brains don’t make our visual images like a camera obscura or a cell phone or digital camera. Our visual information comes through our eye which receives all edge acuity information and color information in its tiny center (fovea). Color is only collected with sufficient light. As light diminishes we receive less color. Our cones in the center of our fovea demand lots of light, our rods which are not color sensitive do not need as much light….it’s why we don’t see color at night. A camera collects all its light information at once. We don’t. Our eye sends its signals electro-chemically to the cortex where color, shape and motion information all arrive at differing speeds (times). Our brain sorts, correlates, edits and manufactures an image based on its previous experience. The unrecognized is often dismissed; the complicated is simplified. Paintings work this way. Our brain gets information from a stereo setup of two eyes and, can perceive relative motion and parallax information in a way that a camera does not. If I make a painting it is the result how I collect, edit and modify information with my tools, touch and pigments.
I have merged these two disparate systems mechanically. I have overlapped product from the camera (example 1) with the painting (example 2) that was inspired by the photo. Cameras don’t simplify, edit, and organize vision like we do. But, the camera can take points of view that are physically impossible for us. I took this photo an inch above the surface of a vernal pool which would reveal the effects of lens distortion an experience we share with cameras, just not to the same extent. Our distortion is much more pronounced. Our brain simply ignores and corrects it. I overlaid the photo with the painting (example 3). I did some doctoring of the photo and the merged image in Photoshop. In the next examples I show you the roll of Photoshop in making a happier marriage between the photo and the painting. Example 4 shows the photo. Example 5 shows the painting. Example 6 shows the first merger and example 7 shows the effects of more Photoshop enhancements.
The last examples begin with work I presented in an earlier blog. The photo (example 8) is a result of multiple photos merged and altered. The painting in example 9 was previously presented. The hybrid merger ( example 10 ) is the final merged product or, in the popular music nomenclature, a mashup. These have been printed now on a large format Epson 9900 capable of 44″ square images.
Before showing you my last examples allow me to invite you to join me in Raleigh Durham NC this weekend ( November 8,9 and 10) where I will be demonstrating and conducting workshops for Art of The Carolinas with Jerrys Artarama. Contact Jerry’s Artarama at 800 827 8478 ext 156 if you would like to enroll in one of my workshops. Next week on November 16th I invite you to join me on a tour of New York’s Metropolitan Museum from 10 am to 4 pm with a lunch break. If you are interested in this tour ( limit ten) contact the Silvermine School of Art at 203 966 6668 ext 2. Here, I will explain how artists made their paintings. And, on Sunday afternoon November 17th, I will be in Lakeville CT at the White Gallery (phone 860 435 1029) for an afternoon lecture on “How We See” .