The Filtered Encounter: On Photographic Realism in Contemporary Painting

Mentor: Dr Joe Lucchesi

Abstract: Photographic realism, or painting that makes a clear visual reference to photography, has experienced a great deal of controversy and criticism in the contemporary era. Many critics uphold a longstanding prejudice that painting from the photograph detracts from the value of a realistic painting.  This stance dictates that most photographic realism replicates the photograph with the same intentions: often, this intention is to create a heightened sense of realism in the painting, to which end painting from a photograph is “cheating.”  In this essay, I posited that contemporary photographic realism integrates photographic styles into their paintings as a way of exploring photographic vision itself. I argue that the inherent meaning in a photographic realist work depends upon the specific photographic style it evokes, as well as the degree to which they modify the photograph in a painterly style.  I examined four paintings from four very contemporary sources, including Eric Fischl, Jeff Ramirez, Denis Peterson, Judith Eisler to consider a broad array of photographic realist works and consider their diverse uses of the photograph. I examined these paintings primarily in terms of the photographic rhetoric they used, and therein discovered vast differences between their intentions and results. On a whole, these examples of contemporary photographic realism monumentalize the photographic source, ranging from the personal photograph to a news photograph to a television image, and use the photographic rhetoric to engage the viewer with the subject of the work in a novel, often confronting way.

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